Flexible design, investment in skills and constant innovation are the keys to a flourishing economy, an influential audience of business people and policy experts have heard recently.
Speaker Anthea McIntyre, Conservative employment in the European Parliament, said that in a global market innovation was needed not just for growth but for survival itself. Better regulation and sweeping away red tape were also key factors in encouraging change.
"How we work, what we produce and how our products are made need constant review in a never ending search for excellence," she told the European Forum for Manufacturing at a dinner debate in Brussels focusing on innovation and design.
These were needed to boost quality and reduce environmental impact and production costs - and so keep ahead of the competition.
Miss McIntyre said the EU's Horizon 2020 investment programme was putting some 80 billion euros into innovation in a five year period. However, she cautioned: "It is important that this money does not just go into blue sky research, but into practical applications of science and technology which move our industries forward. It should not just go to academic institutions but also help businesses and especially SMEs.
"Responding to competition and changes in consumer demand, as well as keeping up with the best and latest technology, are core components of what drives dynamic companies forward. It is therefore essential that policy makers constantly consider how to create the right conditions for companies to innovate and maximise their growth.
"Legislators should be very aware that they can stifle innovation. In reviewing or producing new regulation, they should specify the performance requirement not the method of achieving it – the 'what' not the 'how'. For example, a specification might traditionally require a certain thickness of plastic, but this automatically excludes the use of emerging advanced materials, which might be a lot thinner but provide the same level of performance.
Calling for continued focus on better regulation, she said: "Recently, I asked (Commission Vice President) Mr Timmermans how will he judge the achievements of his better regulation agenda? What will success look like? His answer was very clear, that it will be Europe’s SMEs who will be the judge.
"This is the right approach and the reduction in the volume of legislative proposals compared with the previous Commission is encouraging.
"Another vital factor is skills - we need to match skills to future jobs and address the skills gap in the workforce.
"By 2020 it is predicted that almost 90% of the jobs, expected to be created or to fall vacant, will require medium or high level qualifications This is where apprenticeships are so important, particularly engineering apprenticeships.
"We need to value engineers and sell engineering as a great career choice to our young people, young women as well as young men."