Europe’s ability to compete in global markets is suffering due to the lack of momentum in creating European Union-wide design policies.
This is according to Michael Thomson, president-elect of non-profit organisation The Bureau of European Design Associations. The body has tasked itself with influencing the European Commission and Parliament to pull together research on member states’ existing design policies.
Thomson, who moves from vice-president to a two-year presidency in March 2007, believes that as a continent Europe’s position is debilitated without design strategies at the EU level.
‘The picture for design policy is fragmented across Europe and that is a weakness in terms of competitiveness. The belief seems to be that Europe doesn’t need policy at this level because there aren’t many such design policies at the national level,’ says Thomson.
In some member states, such as Finland and the UK, programmes of promoting design are relatively advanced, but in many countries there is little or no activity, according to Thomson. ‘Estonia and Lithuania are starting to develop a design strategy and in France efforts are pretty fragmented. In Italy, there is nothing and nor is there likely to be,’ he says.
One of Beda’s objectives is to keep Europe in the running in the face of intensifying marketplace competition, particularly from the East. At a policy level, the situation in Europe contrasts starkly with that in Korea, for example, where there is consensus between industry and government on the importance of design as a ‘core factor in doing business’.
When plunged into economic crisis in 1997, Korea boldly forged ahead to raise the standard of quality and innovation in the country’s design sector. In 1998 it launched the Comprehensive Plan for Industrial Design Promotion, which was followed by its second five-year strategy, introduced in 2003 by the Republic’s President Roh Mu-hyun. Subsequently, almost $400m (£222m) of design investment has been raised from the government and private sector.
There is also the well-documented rise of manufacturing skills and innovation in China. Beda has already been involved in round-table discussions with China’s head of mission to the EU, Guan Chengyuan, and intends to use further communications meetings to highlight Europe’s situation now, as compared to its competitors, before going on to explore what the commission might do next.
According to Thomson, ‘Outside Europe there are policies in place to create direct competition to European capabilities. The sentiment here seems to be that we have the style, culture and history to compete with that, but that isn’t going to be enough any more.’
The organisation is also compiling a dossier that could act as a springboard to an EU-funded research programme on member state design strategies.
To achieve this, Beda works with a number of partners, including the trade mark and design intellectual property body, The Office of Harmonization for the Internal Market in Alicante, Spain and non-profit, independent think-tank Friends of Europe in Brussels.
At its General Assembly meeting in March, Beda simplified its structure, removing all second-tier membership, such as affiliates and ‘observer’ groups.
â€¢ 30 members across 20 countries
â€¢ UK members are the Design Business Association and The Lighthouse
â€¢ Current president is Italian designer Massimo Pitis
â€¢ Exists to create a ‘permanent liaison’ between professional societies and networks and the European Commission and Parliament in Brussels
â€¢ Established in the Netherlands in 1969, its head office is now in Barcelona, Spain