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The Future ‘Made in CEE’

Central and Eastern Europe will play an increasingly important role in the European Union's economy in the future. The current technological changes can give the region additional impetus. These are the core statements made at an international conference in Budapest this Thursday.

Organized by the ‘Netzwerk Digital’ initiative and the organization ‘United Europe’, the event sought to show that Central and Eastern European countries are becoming more and more economically emancipated from the role of the ‘extended workbench’, and increasingly contribute to innovation and growth in the EU. The conference made it clear that the region's competitiveness needs to be increased for this changed role, and that digitization can make a significant contribution.

Marie-Theres Thiell, Managing Director of Innogy Hungary and Vice President of the German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, presented the key messages of a roundtable discussion earlier in the day when some 25 top managers exchanged views on opportunities and challenges in the region in terms of international competitiveness, as well as the tasks that companies, the state or the education system still have to cope with.

Johannes Teyssen, CEO of the German energy company E.ON SE, stated in his keynote address that the world had once again entered a phase, as it did during industrialization in the 19th century, in which technology plays a crucial role in the global distribution of prosperity. This is where Europe needs to catch up, he said. In his opinion, innovation arises where people with diverse personal, cultural and professional backgrounds can exchange ideas freely and openly. Teyssen was confident that it could be done in Europe, also in terms of digitization. He stated, however, that a successful digital transformation also requires a corresponding culture; above all, employees should be encouraged to acquire digital knowledge.

The Hungarian Minister for Innovation and Technology, László Palkovics was of the view that thanks to the use of modern technologies and high value-added investments, the Hungarian economy has not lost its momentum for growth despite the international slowdown. He stressed that the transformation of the research network must be completed and that a number of funding issues remain to be resolved. He also called for closer cooperation between research institutions, universities and corporate entities, and added that the state should play an important role in complementing the role of employers in adult education.

Another speaker, Hans-Paul Bürkner, Chairman of the Boston Consulting Group was convinced that the region of Central and Eastern Europe would in the future develop from a region of labor-intensive assembly companies to a location of "Smart Suppliers", i.e. innovative suppliers. The region is already showing dynamic growth, well-educated workers and a still considerable cost advantage. However, digitization will change this economic model, and this requires increased efforts in digitization.

Thomas Narbeshuber, Vice President Central and Southeast Europe of the chemical company BASF, emphasized that digitization offers Europe and the region a unique opportunity to compete for sustainable solutions in the global innovation competition. He sees opportunities in the region, in particular through targeted support for Industry 4.0, Artificial Intelligence and B2B industrial platforms.

Sándor Laczkó

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