“We see a strong railway sector, able to respond to the chanllenges of the future”

Madrid, 24/11/2020. Entrevista con Raúl Blanco, secretario general de Industria y Pymes. Foto: Ángel de Antonio. ARCHDC

RAÚL BLANCO, General Secretary of Industry and SME

Mafex Magazine: Productive activity has slowed down due to the last year global context. Which actions are being studied by your Ministry to boost the industry?

Raúl Blanco

In 2020, the Ministry had to face the emergencies derived from the pandemic, both in the protection of workers, and in the implementation of measures to promote the medical supplies production, and to safeguard the industry, which was seriously threatened. Together with our partners from the European Union, we have achieved in record time the implementation of joint mechanisms that allow the reactivation of European industry towards a new model based on digitization and sustainability, which, as you know well, are two of the pillars of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan under developmente.

In this year 2021, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism has an expenditure budget of 4,860.5 million euros, which represents an increase of 2,067.7 million euros, 74.04% more than the budget extended from 2018, clearly noting the boost that EU funds will have for industrial activity.

It is the largest public budget in history to directly support the reactivation of industry, commerce and tourism. These are necessary budgets to modernize our production model and make it more resilient, sustainable and digital.

Focusing on Industry and SMEs, the Ministry will allocate 2,930.6 million euros to them, which represents an increase of 927 million euros compared to the 2018 extended budget. This will allow us to implement specific actions within of the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, and to deepen and design new initiatives to be financed with the Ministry ordinary budget, with the ultimate objective of increasing the participation of the industry in our economy as a whole.

Thus, as an example, the department creates the Support Fund for Productive Industrial Investment (FAIIP), with an endowment of 600 million euros, to finance industrial investment projects that help promote industrial development, strengthen the competitiveness of industrial companies and maintain industrial capacities throughout the national territory.

I also want to highlight the Spain Entrepreneurial Nation Strategy, recently presented by the President of the Government and in which this Ministry has a leading role, which includes actions to support the Industrial Entrepreneurship, 136.2 million euros, and which is aimed at stimulating industrial development through support for industrial projects that improve the competitiveness of various manufacturing sectors, aimed at industrial SMEs and, especially, industrial entrepreneurship.


Mafex Magazine: Europe has already launched a “New Industrial Strategy” in order to improve its competitiveness and increase its autonomy and resilience. What is the focus of this roadmap to get back on the path of growth and international leadership? Are there specific SME measures?

Raúl Blanco

Our policy is fully aligned with the new European industrial strategy. The Government approved in February 2019 the General Guidelines of the New Industrial Policy 2030, aimed at the transformation of the industry through the incorporation of R & D & I as a continuous process of companies, and the implementation of those innovations that allow progress towards ecological transition and digitization. After time out caused by the covid-19, we get back on the development of these guidelines with more impetus and, derived from the pandemic and the availability of European funds, we are detecting a great interest from companies in accelerating or anticipating productive investments that they had planned, and they were going to perform in the future.

Regarding actions focused on SMEs, I have to remember that the Government approved in April 2019 the SME Strategic Framework Policy 2030, whose objective is to improve the competitive capacity of small and medium-sized companies to face the challenges of globalization, digitization, in addition to helping to create a suitable climate to favour their growth.

This framework is the roadmap that the Administration is going to follow in the current stage of economic and social reactivation. Now more than ever, public-private collaboration is becoming more relevant, in order to identify the most appropriate measures, and to support our companies with the aim of relaunching the economy and recovering jobs.

From the budgetary point of view, actions are still very much oriented to SMEs, such as the reinforcement of the guarantees granted by the Reciprocal Guarantee Societies, through an endowment to CERSA (Spanish Company of Reinforcement), of 123.2 million euros .

Also, focused on entrepreneurs, the granting of loans, participation in the capital of SMEs, and in seed capital funds for entrepreneurs is promoted, through ENISA (National Innovation Company), endowed with 98.5 million euros in the 2021 budget. The program is rounded out with an endowment of 8 million euros for Innovative Business Groups, or innovative clusters.

Mafex Magazine: Given the foreseeable arrival of European funds for recovery throughout 2021, could you tell us what are your Ministry main lines of action? How will they affect / benefit a high technological industry such as the railroad?

Raúl Blanco

As I have previously pointed out, the arrival of the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism Funds will allow undertaking industrial investments that were expected in the longer term. We have Recovery Fund endowments of 487.3 million euros for 2021. We will give priority to the following programs:

  1. a) Strategic projects for the industry transition (415 million euros) and support to the large electro-intensive industry (320 million euros).
  2. b) In order to enhance the role of industry, the Industrial Entrepreneurship Support Program is endowed with 136.2 million euros; innovation and sustainability projects in priority industrial sectors, with 94 million euros; and the actions of digital transformation of the industry with 95 million euros. These projects aim to promote the double green and digital transition of the industry.

However the foregoing, it is convenient to remember the need to comply with European regulations to receive these funds; it is necessary to require that projects contain certain percentages of contribution to the green and digital transition.

The more than 750 expressions of interest presented by the companies in the public consultation carried out by the Ministry during the months of December and January, show that there are ideas and projects, and a willingness to take advantage of this opportunity offered by European funds to modernize our entire industry.

In this context, the railway sector, which has been recognized by the EU as a basic element to achieve the objectives established in the Green Pact to reduce emissions from transport, has to play a leading role in accordance with its technological capabilities, in addition to other factors, as its contribution to territorial structuring.

The participation of the railway companies in the European funds will translate, on the one hand, into an improvement of the railway infrastructures and of the railway transport itself in Spain, by modernizing the rolling stock. And, on the other hand, these funds can contribute to the digitization and modernization of our railway industries and their entire value chain, promoting the digitization of factories and the development of new products. All this with the aim of continuing to be a world reference and an exponent of Spain’s technological and industrial capabilities.

Mafex Magazine: Within the survey “The Industrial Climate Indicator in Spain (ICI)” prepared by your ministry, a slight improvement has been observed in recent months compared to the start of the pandemic. What conclusions can be drawn from analysing these data?

Raúl Blanco

We believe that following the evolution of different industrial indicators is more relevant than following only one.

In relation to the ICI, as an ad-hoc indicator, specific month data may not be representative of the real trends, and therefore it may be misleading to draw conclusions from isolated data. Overall in times of high uncertainty such as the one we currently live in, where everything can change from one day to the next, even in a sector like yours, despite being characterized by long term stability.

Once these refinements have been made, and looking at the evolution since April / May, the main industrial indicators show us a constant recovery from the minimum reached in April 2020 up to current levels. In this way, identified a general improvement we not only in the ICI since the worst moments of last spring, but we also observed in general terms a significant improvement in practically all the components of the indicator: order book, stocks and expectations of production. It is also true, however, that this last component in February reversed its good behaviour of the previous months and had a decline this month, but, again, this data, by itself, should not lead us to conclude that a change in trend is taking place. In any case, we must bear in mind that, far from having completed it, we are still fully immersed in the path of recovery of industrial activity, like that of the economy as a whole, and, therefore, there is still room for recovery. All this without forgetting that this process, being linked to the evolution of the health crisis and the consequent restrictions on activity, may still experience specific shocks that are reflected in unfavorable data in a specific period.

Mafex Magazine: The “2021-2024 Foreign Action Strategy” indicates that our country is in prominent positions in the international economic ranking in areas such as R & D & i. The World Innovation Index 2017 mentioned in this document places Spain in 7th position. What plans exist to continue promoting this highly differentiating factor?

Raúl Blanco

R & D & i is essential for all industrial sectors, including the railway sector. Thanks to investments in R & D & i made in the past, today our industry has the appropriate technological capabilities to face the challenges of the present and of the future.

The position of Spain in this indicator comes, without a doubt, to recognize the efforts that both the industrial companies, as well as the public administrations, have been making to develop a more competitive industry and prepared to face the challenges of a global competition.

Today the Spanish railway sector is a leading sector at the international level, which proudly carries the Spain brand beyond our borders, and this is something that it probably would not have achieved if significant investments had not been made in innovation and technological development in the past.

Investment in R&D is necessary now and before. It is necessary in different fields such as locomotive propulsion, in the manufacture of new components, in the incorporation of new composite materials in the structures of cars or in the improvement and the design of new security systems. We are very aware of it. For this reason, we have specific instruments aimed at supporting companies that make investments in their production plants, to either improve their production processes, implement new processes or, directly, incorporate the latest digital technologies into them. Programs such as “Activa Industria” or the manufacturing R + D + i line, along with the rest of the department’s support lines. They are available to companies in the railway sector.

Additionally, I would like to remind you that, from the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, we are in perfect coordination with the Ministry of Science and Innovation to guarantee that the support measures for Product Innovation, which are promoted from that ministry, are fully aligned with industrial policy strategies.

Mafex Magazine: The railway sector has a prominent weight within the Spanish industry. In recent years, our companies have been an engine of international growth and a flagship of technological advances. What role do you think we can play in this new scenario focused on a green and sustainable European economy?

Raúl Blanco

As I have already mentioned, the European Commission recognizes that rail transport is called upon to play a decisive role in meeting the objectives of the European Green Deal. In this way, we need to remember that this mode of transport is the only one that has continuously reduced its emissions since 1990 and is considered the most energy efficient transport, being responsible for only 0.4% of greenhouse gas emissions, consuming only 2% of the total energy used in transport.

In the current context, where it is necessary to bet on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Europe, and more specifically Spain, must continue to have a strong and competitive railway industry, capable of meeting its own needs and continuing to have a strong international presence. And, this is a government commitment.

On the other hand, the lessons derived from the pandemic have highlighted the fragility of some supply chains and the importance of having our own technological capabilities, as well as the recovery of European industrial sovereignty. And, in this area, the railway sector has a great opportunity to continue leading innovative technologies that are today demanded by citizens.

Mafex Magazine: Your Ministry works on different action plans to face the economic and technological challenges that we are currently facing. The implementation of these initiatives will presumably accelerate the change towards a digital and sustainable industrial model. How do you think the railway sector will evolve in the medium term in this new environment?

Raúl Blanco

As I have already described, we are working very intensively in the implementation of different measures and support plans to accompany and promote the changes that the Spanish industry must necessarily undertake, within the framework of the firm commitment to digitization and sustainability of our industry.

We are working in a very complex environment, not only because of the challenge posed by the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or address the incorporation of technologies at a much more advanced scale in processes and products, but also due to the need to face the situation caused by covid-19 in the Spanish industry.

In this context, the railway sector has shown a strong resilience to the period in which we live, and this is in part due to the large investments made in recent years to adapt production processes and the purely innovative character of this sector

However, in the coming years the railway sector will have to face different challenges, due to the current demands of society. Today society demands more efficient and sustainable transport for people and goods (one of the areas where Spain has to do more), and this sector can satisfy this need. In the coming years, it will be necessary to bet on greater efficiency, where the use of alternative fuels on non-electrified tracks will be a priority and where the incorporation of new generation advanced materials in our trains will be a reality.

From the Ministry, we foresee a strong railway sector, which is able to respond to future challenges, and to keep on bringing spanish technology to countries such as United Kingdom, Germany, Kazasjstan, Saudi Arabia or ourself geography. The sector has to envisage an exciting challenge, and the Ministry of Industry has the best willingness to acompaing it in this situation and to support it in everything we can do.