About ERT

ERT Structure

ERT today brings together up to 50 chief executives and chairmen of major multinational companies of European parentage, covering a wide range of industrial sectors. Individuals join at the personal invitation of existing Members, which confers on ERT membership a personal rather than corporate character.

ERT Members meet twice a year, in person, at Plenary Sessions. At these Plenary Sessions, Members determine ERT’s work programme, set priorities and establish specialised Working Groups to work on them. Decisions are taken by consensus.

The ERT Chairman, two vice-Chairmen, the former ERT Chairman and five other elected Members form the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee reviews ERT activities and makes recommendations to the Plenary Sessions.

Each ERT Member nominates an Associate to act as a main point of liaison at working level and to help implement the decisions taken by Members.

Much of the work is done by the Working Groups established by the Plenary Sessions. They are chaired by ERT Members and comprise Members, Associates and experts from the companies behind ERT Members. The Working Groups present proposals to the Plenary and take a leading role in the drafting of official ERT messages and positions.

The Secretary General is in charge of a small Executive based in Brussels, which coordinates projects, acts as a contact point, provides administrative support and publishes the ERT reports.

ERT Communications

Drawing on the global experience of its Members, ERT identifies important issues related to European competitiveness and examines how public policies could facilitate improvements.

ERT makes its views known to the political decision-makers at national and European level by means of reports, position papers and face-to-face discussions.

At European level, ERT discusses its views with Members of the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

At national level, Members communicate ERT’s views to their national government and parliament, as well as business colleagues, contacts in industrial federations, other opinion-formers and the press.

ERT has close contacts with BUSINESSEUROPE, the official representative body of European business and industry vis-à-vis the European institutions.


The European Round Table of Industrialists was born out of a growing preoccupation with the state of the European economy in the early 1980s. Frequently diagnosed as “eurosclerosis”, the symptoms were an evident lack of dynamism, innovation and competitiveness in comparison with Japan and the United States. European markets, with the exception of agriculture, were still national, despite the Single Market objective set by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Economies of scale were very hard to achieve and the burden of red tape was stultifying.

A group of 17 businessmen came together to launch the European Round Table of Industrialists in Paris on 6-7 April 1983. They sought to create an organisation able to alert governments to the parlous state of the European economy.

Spearheading the initiative was Pehr Gyllenhammar, then chief executive of Volvo. His readiness to speak out to the press in favour of policy remedies for Europe’s structural problems encouraged other senior businessmen to join him - notably Wisse Dekker of Philips and Umberto Agnelli of Fiat. Their backing helped to secure the participation of other high-calibre, pro-European industrialists ready to support the idea that Europe needed to “break out“ of its current stasis and embark on a massive modernisation of its manufacturing base.

In Brussels, the Pehr Gyllenhammar initiative was watched with some interest at the European Commission (EC), where the Commissioner for Industry and the Single Market, Etienne Davignon, had earlier challenged industry to produce an initiative, posing the simple question: “whom do I call when I want to speak to European Industry?”.

ERT Founding Fathers


From left to right (top): Karl Beurle (Thyssen), Carlo De Benedetti (Olivetti), Curt Nicolin (ASEA), Harry Gray (United Technologies), John Harvey - Jones (ICI), Wolfgang Seelig (Siemens), Umberto Agnelli (Fiat), Peter Baxendell (Shell), Olivier Lecerf (Lafarge Coppée), José Bidegain (Cie de St Gobain), Wisse Dekker (Philips).

From left to right (bottom): Antoine Riboud (BSN), Bernard Hanon (Renault), François-Xavier Ortoli (EC), Pehr G. Gyllenhammar (Volvo), Etienne Davignon (EC), Louis von Planta (Ciba-Geigy), Helmut Maucher (Nestlé).

Etienne Davignon and his colleague Francois-Xavier Ortoli, Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, attended the later stages of the April founding meeting in Paris. It was the occasion for a great deal of lively debate and the first airing of many of the ideas and concerns that were to preoccupy ERT for the coming 20 years: high costs and low profits, fragmentation of the European market and excessive interference by governments, and the fundamental need to maintain and rebuild an industrial base in Europe across a broad strategic front, from new technologies to telecommunications. The discussion was sufficiently fruitful to convince those present that it was worth going ahead.

The organisation, charter and financial arrangements for ERT were agreed at a second meeting of Members (afterwards always referred to as "Plenary Sessions”) on 1 June 1983 in Amsterdam. The overarching objective would be to promote competition and competitiveness on a continental scale.

Volvo was charged with setting up a small Secretariat inside one of its Paris-based divisions. In 1985 ERT appointed its first full-time Secretary General, Peter Ekenger, and hired an office in Paris.

Milestones and Chairmen

Neither a business lobby group nor a think tank, ERT has consistently sought to alert policy makers to looming problems and to sow the seeds of ideas for their solution. The quality of its ideas and proposals have steadily acquired a reputation for first-rate analysis and intelligent argument. This has enabled ERT to become a key interlocutor in the debate on European competitiveness providing thoughtful, well researched critiques of the status quo and considered recommendations for future action.

ERT was an early entrant into the debate on how to tackle Europe’s problem of jobless growth in the mid-1980s, was among the first to call for a continent-wide vision of transport infrastructure, persistently campaigned for high-quality education and training, consistently favoured the adoption of International Accounting Standards and has repeatedly set out the arguments for pensions reform, liberalisation of utilities and a flexible employment market.

ERT’s “core business” since the mid-1980s has been securing the development and implementation of the European Single Market programme. Jacques Delors, past President of the European Commission (1985-1995) and one of the key advocates of the Single Market, has publicly recognised the important role played by ERT in this area.

Today, the organisation maintains a sharp vision of the Single Market structure needed to offer economies of scale and competitiveness in the global market. It continues, therefore, to argue for the elimination of the still-powerful obstacles that prevent business securing the full benefits of the Single Market. In recent years it has campaigned vigorously, for example, for a Community patent system and an end to fragmented national regulations that frustrate efforts towards entrepreneurship and innovation.

ERT’s first competitive priority was infrastructure. Its 1984 report “Missing Links”, proposed three major infrastructure projects: Euro-Route – a Channel link between England and France, Scanlink – a plan to fill in the road and rail gaps between Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Northern Germany; and proposals for a trans-European network of high-speed trains.

It would be exaggerated to claim sole credit for these projects, but the ERT report certainly contributed to the ongoing discussion and later to the realisation of all three projects in modified form.

The Treaty of Maastricht and its timetable for European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) was welcomed by ERT, as it regarded a single currency as a necessary pillar for the Single Market, and a means to reduce the cost of doing business. Members were active in encouraging the successful implementation of the Maastricht timetable based on the adoption of the euro as the single currency in 1999 and the introduction of euro notes and coins in 2002.

ERT is widely credited with raising awareness amongst senior EU officials of the importance of economic and business competitiveness to growth, employment and prosperity. In 1995 – in response to a suggestion from ERT– the European Commission created a Competitiveness Advisory Group. Throughout its existence, this Group had a significant influence on the development of the European competitiveness agenda.

Employment issues have also been given continuous attention by ERT. Job creation goes hand-in-hand with competitiveness and the social policy framework, however, ERT has also been able to focus on micro measures, particularly for encouraging job creation among small and medium-sized companies through practical partnerships between large and small businesses.

More recently, ERT Members have contributed to the preparation of the Lisbon Agenda which sought to make Europe the ‘most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world’ by the year 2010. ERT found the implementation of the Agenda less impressive than the accompanying declarations. ERT Members have constantly stressed the need for better performance by national governments towards achieving targets within a specified timeframe that otherwise risk remaining beyond Europe’s grasp. In subsequent years, ERT regularly contributed to the debate on how to ensure better implementation of the Lisbon Agenda across all EU Member States, including on ways to foster innovation and achieve higher industry investment in Research & Development in Europe.

ERT Members have long appreciated the benefits of EU enlargement both for the accession countries and for the existing Member States in terms of peace, stability and future prosperity. ERT consistently supported the expansion of the Union, actively contributing to the process leading to the accession of ten new Member States in May 2004, by advocating strict implementation of the EU acquis by the acceding countries. ERT argued that this was an essential pre-condition to ensure the integrity of the Single Market, and thus the competitiveness of the entire European economy. ERT Members continue to support further accessions to the EU once candidate countries truly fulfil the necessary criteria.

As leaders of multinational companies, ERT Members appreciate the benefits of global trade within a multilateral rules-based system. ERT thus strongly supported the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) trade negotiations, regularly underlining the business interest in their successful conclusion.

ERT Members were particularly aware of the dynamic developments in other economies around the globe. By sharing companies' global experience in other parts of the world with EU policy makers, ERT sought to create a better understanding of how EU policy actions could ensure that Europe remained competitive while building mutually beneficial economic relationships with other regions. Thus, ERT addressed the EU's foreign economic relations with the United States, Russia and China. ERT also supported an ambitious European Neighbourhood Policy as a win-win approach to gradually enlarging the EU's Single Market.

ERT Chairmen

  • Benoît Potier (Air Liquide, Since 2014);

  • Leif Johansson (Ericsson, From 2009 to 2014);

  • Jorma Ollila (Nokia, From 2005 to 2009);

  • Gerhard Cromme (ThyssenKrupp, From 2001 to 2005);

  • Morris Tabaksblat (Reed Elsevier, From 1999 to 2001);

  • Helmut Maucher (Nestlé, From 1996 to 1999);

  • Jérôme Monod (Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, From 1992 to 1996);

  • Wisse Dekker (Philips, From 1988 to 1992);

  • Pehr Gyllenhammar (Volvo, From 1983 to 1988).

ERT Highlights

The publication "ERT Highlights" comprises a short history of the development and achievements of the ERT, and includes a chapter devoted to the legacy of each ERT Chairman.