London - Within the next couple of years the UK will hold a referendum on whether or not the country should stay in the European Union.
Like most sections of industry, the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) would much prefer the UK to stay in the EU, though even its support is not unconditional.
In a position statement on the referendum, the CIA noted the benefits of free movement of goods, services and people but added that “proportionate regulation” was also a critical factor for global competitiveness.
While the debate in the UK is divisive, it is raising worthwhile questions around whether or not the benefits of European Union membership outweigh the costs.
Such questions must surely cross the minds of owners, managers and workers throughout the EU tire and rubber manufacturing sector every day.
Like chemical manufacturers, EU rubber companies and their suppliers operate in a globally competitive market with their hands tied by red and green tape made in Brussels.
While EU policy may not be the cause of all the problems faced by the industry, its unilateral imposition of regulations such as the REACH chemical safety requirements and the Emissions Trading Scheme are certainly not helping.
Nor is the lack of determination to ensure a level playing field for European tire and rubber makers by removing technical barriers to exports overseas and making sure that imports into the EU comply with the requirements imposed on European-based manufacturers.
A further sign of the unhelpful – and confused – direction of EU policy is the emergence of a potential ban on synthetic turf and other playing surfaces that represent over 50 percent of the market for recycled rubber.
Against this background there is little surprise when major players announce plant closures in Europe. The latest is Michelin, which plans to close tire production and retreading facilities in the UK, Italy and Germany cutting over 1,600 jobs.
Hardest hit is the Michelin site in Ballymena, Northern Ireland with the loss of 860 jobs – and the irreplaceable skills (see Postscript p22), experience and commitment to the tire industry that will go with them.
To prove its worth to the rubber industry, the EU as an institution needs to reverse the decline and start putting as much effort into securing the future of its engineering, science and manufacturing base as it does into having the world’s toughest environmental restrictions.