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The 100,000 robots that show the Italian economy is, despite everything, in robust health

How is the Italian economy doing? Pretty well, all things considered. That is according to ISTAT projections that indicate a GDP growth of 1% this year and 1.1% in 2025 – in line with government estimates but considerably more optimistic than those of the International Monetary Fund (0.7%) and the Bank of Italy (0.8%). Looking ahead, private consumption, investments, employment, and –crucially –exports are on the rise (“In the global arena, ‘Made in Italy’ is climbing the ranks, even outperforming Chinese smartphones,” observes Marco Fortis, Vice-President of the Edison Foundation, as reported by IlSole24Ore on 7 June).

In summary, we are making progress, albeit in an atmosphere fraught with concerns, owing to geopolitical tensions with no clear favourable resolutions to the crises (in Ukraine, the Middle East) and the persistence of unresolved underlying issues: Demographic decline, environmental setbacks and societal struggles – with wages and the nation’s mean productivity stagnating for two decades – are pressing issues. Additionally, the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon is stark, with 132,000 graduates having ‘voted with their feet’ by leaving Italy over the past decade, as reported by IlSole24Ore on 3 June. Moreover, a pervasive sense of disillusionment and a crisis of confidence are evident, further underscored by a concerning trend that has set alarm bells ringing in political circles: the increasing abstention rate, which surpassed 50% of the electorate in the latest elections for the new European Parliament (“Disillusioned youth and impoverished families: Why half of the Italians are shunning the ballot box,” in la Repubblica, 10 June).

Indeed, industrial production has been declining, with a 1% drop in April marking the 15th consecutive month of downturn, and a 2.9% decrease compared to the same period last year, with the most pronounced falls in the automotive and fashion industries. Moreover, consumer spending and investment are losing momentum as a result of rising interest rates and inflation. The machinery sector is suffering too (“Failure to launch Transition 5.0 bonus causes drag”, warned IlSole24Ore, 11 June). Businesses have been cautious, and consumers timid. Now that the ECB’s decisions signal a reduction in interest rates, coupled with ongoing worries about inflation that is unlikely to return to 2% in Europe anytime soon, we might gradually start to consume, produce, invest, and revive the faltering economy. Time will tell.

Indeed, aside from the performance figures, we know that Italian industrial infrastructure is strong, technologically sophisticated, and poised to restore momentum. A recent survey on “industry excellence” by IlSole24Ore (7 June) attests that Italy boasts over 100,000 robots, leading Europe in this regard, with the automotive sector being the only exception.

The Bank of Italy‘s annual report has indeed underscored the growing prevalence of industrial automation, noting that since 2017, “only China has seen higher rates of growth than ours”. We have now achieved the milestone of 100,000 installed units, advancing from eighth to sixth place globally in terms of robot numbers, owing to the proficiency of businesses in capitalising on Industry 4.0 tax incentives.

The companies say that we can still continue to do well. Domenico Appendino, president of Siri (the Italian Association of Robotics and Automation), acknowledges the advantages of the Industry 4.0 incentive scheme (attributable to Carlo Calenda, Minister of Economic Development from 2016 to 2018). However, he critically observes that “the market has been frozen by the announcement of the 5.0 bonus, leading to a downturn that began in mid-2023”.

Confindustria is pressing for the disbursement of the €6.3 billion allocated in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) for tax credits on innovative investments. The Ministry of Enterprise and Made in Italy has assured that the decree is in the final stages of preparation. For sure, following the severe crisis of 2008, Italian industry responded by investing and innovating, as well as carving out new niches within the global markets. It requires clear and far-sighted industrial policies at both European and national levels in order to sustain this growth.

An open challenge awaits both the government and the Commission that will steer the EU in the coming years, following the renewal of Parliament. We need an industrial policy that can tackle the environmental transition and digital innovation pragmatically, without being constrained by ideological frameworks. This policy should encompass the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence, security and development strategies, and the opportunities for new generations as they face competition from the economic powerhouses of the USA, China, and India.

Italians excel in making machines, boasting outstanding mechanical and mechatronic engineers, as well as highly skilled workers and technicians.  And Italian entrepreneurs have a keen eye for quality and a bespoke approach: as though a steel mill, a machine tool, a packaging machine, or indeed a series of robots were high-fashion garments, meticulously crafted and tailored to meet the most sophisticated demands of customers around the globe. In essence, Italy is skilled at blending design with practicality, advanced technology with environmental sustainability. Green steel is one area where Italy excels, achieving remarkable outcomes at Lombardy-based plants that could serve as exemplary models for the rejuvenation of the Ilva complex in Taranto (given wise political choices and leadership that is both capable and secure).

In this context, it is also important to acknowledge the improvement in quality of our universities, including the ‘Politecnici’ of Turin and Milan, which this year ranked 111th in the QS ranking of 1,503 global universities, placing them within the top 8%. Moreover, the strengthening of ties between academic institutions and businesses, as well as between the public and private sectors, encompassing research, education, and innovation, is noteworthy.

Bringing all this together, we must emphasise the value (and values) of industry for various reasons: to provide substance and a future for Italian manufacturing; to make it a desirable goal for the new generations; to encourage a portion of the 132,000 graduates who have departed to come back to Italy; and to draw young men and women from across the globe to work, engage in business, and conduct research, as well as to establish new lives here. If we can do all this, it will be an effective strategy for growth – and moreover make us truly European.

(photo Getty Images)

How is the Italian economy doing? Pretty well, all things considered. That is according to ISTAT projections that indicate a GDP growth of 1% this year and 1.1% in 2025 – in line with government estimates but considerably more optimistic than those of the International Monetary Fund (0.7%) and the Bank of Italy (0.8%). Looking ahead, private consumption, investments, employment, and –crucially –exports are on the rise (“In the global arena, ‘Made in Italy’ is climbing the ranks, even outperforming Chinese smartphones,” observes Marco Fortis, Vice-President of the Edison Foundation, as reported by IlSole24Ore on 7 June).

In summary, we are making progress, albeit in an atmosphere fraught with concerns, owing to geopolitical tensions with no clear favourable resolutions to the crises (in Ukraine, the Middle East) and the persistence of unresolved underlying issues: Demographic decline, environmental setbacks and societal struggles – with wages and the nation’s mean productivity stagnating for two decades – are pressing issues. Additionally, the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon is stark, with 132,000 graduates having ‘voted with their feet’ by leaving Italy over the past decade, as reported by IlSole24Ore on 3 June. Moreover, a pervasive sense of disillusionment and a crisis of confidence are evident, further underscored by a concerning trend that has set alarm bells ringing in political circles: the increasing abstention rate, which surpassed 50% of the electorate in the latest elections for the new European Parliament (“Disillusioned youth and impoverished families: Why half of the Italians are shunning the ballot box,” in la Repubblica, 10 June).

Indeed, industrial production has been declining, with a 1% drop in April marking the 15th consecutive month of downturn, and a 2.9% decrease compared to the same period last year, with the most pronounced falls in the automotive and fashion industries. Moreover, consumer spending and investment are losing momentum as a result of rising interest rates and inflation. The machinery sector is suffering too (“Failure to launch Transition 5.0 bonus causes drag”, warned IlSole24Ore, 11 June). Businesses have been cautious, and consumers timid. Now that the ECB’s decisions signal a reduction in interest rates, coupled with ongoing worries about inflation that is unlikely to return to 2% in Europe anytime soon, we might gradually start to consume, produce, invest, and revive the faltering economy. Time will tell.

Indeed, aside from the performance figures, we know that Italian industrial infrastructure is strong, technologically sophisticated, and poised to restore momentum. A recent survey on “industry excellence” by IlSole24Ore (7 June) attests that Italy boasts over 100,000 robots, leading Europe in this regard, with the automotive sector being the only exception.

The Bank of Italy‘s annual report has indeed underscored the growing prevalence of industrial automation, noting that since 2017, “only China has seen higher rates of growth than ours”. We have now achieved the milestone of 100,000 installed units, advancing from eighth to sixth place globally in terms of robot numbers, owing to the proficiency of businesses in capitalising on Industry 4.0 tax incentives.

The companies say that we can still continue to do well. Domenico Appendino, president of Siri (the Italian Association of Robotics and Automation), acknowledges the advantages of the Industry 4.0 incentive scheme (attributable to Carlo Calenda, Minister of Economic Development from 2016 to 2018). However, he critically observes that “the market has been frozen by the announcement of the 5.0 bonus, leading to a downturn that began in mid-2023”.

Confindustria is pressing for the disbursement of the €6.3 billion allocated in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) for tax credits on innovative investments. The Ministry of Enterprise and Made in Italy has assured that the decree is in the final stages of preparation. For sure, following the severe crisis of 2008, Italian industry responded by investing and innovating, as well as carving out new niches within the global markets. It requires clear and far-sighted industrial policies at both European and national levels in order to sustain this growth.

An open challenge awaits both the government and the Commission that will steer the EU in the coming years, following the renewal of Parliament. We need an industrial policy that can tackle the environmental transition and digital innovation pragmatically, without being constrained by ideological frameworks. This policy should encompass the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence, security and development strategies, and the opportunities for new generations as they face competition from the economic powerhouses of the USA, China, and India.

Italians excel in making machines, boasting outstanding mechanical and mechatronic engineers, as well as highly skilled workers and technicians.  And Italian entrepreneurs have a keen eye for quality and a bespoke approach: as though a steel mill, a machine tool, a packaging machine, or indeed a series of robots were high-fashion garments, meticulously crafted and tailored to meet the most sophisticated demands of customers around the globe. In essence, Italy is skilled at blending design with practicality, advanced technology with environmental sustainability. Green steel is one area where Italy excels, achieving remarkable outcomes at Lombardy-based plants that could serve as exemplary models for the rejuvenation of the Ilva complex in Taranto (given wise political choices and leadership that is both capable and secure).

In this context, it is also important to acknowledge the improvement in quality of our universities, including the ‘Politecnici’ of Turin and Milan, which this year ranked 111th in the QS ranking of 1,503 global universities, placing them within the top 8%. Moreover, the strengthening of ties between academic institutions and businesses, as well as between the public and private sectors, encompassing research, education, and innovation, is noteworthy.

Bringing all this together, we must emphasise the value (and values) of industry for various reasons: to provide substance and a future for Italian manufacturing; to make it a desirable goal for the new generations; to encourage a portion of the 132,000 graduates who have departed to come back to Italy; and to draw young men and women from across the globe to work, engage in business, and conduct research, as well as to establish new lives here. If we can do all this, it will be an effective strategy for growth – and moreover make us truly European.

(photo Getty Images)