10 Dec In, Out or Negotiable?
A series of views from John Swain, Chairman of the Anopol Group
With the election of MEPs to the European Government just around the corner and EU dissidents and others pressing for a referendum on Europe before the General Election in 2015, we should prepare ourselves for a couple of interesting and important years.
I remember back in 1968, the big discussion of the day was ‘should we join the Common Market’? Having just lived and worked in Germany for over five years I was very pro Common Market and wrote letters to that effect to newspapers. I still think the conception of a European Common Market was a good thing, but how did this evolve into a European Union, with its power base in Brussels? I have long been an outspoken critic of red tape that has been imposed upon us as a result of our membership of the EU.
The “Business for Britain” campaign was launched last April with a declaration signed by 500 figures, ranging from FTSE 100 chief executives to small business owners, who argue that the UK’s economy would be stronger if the country renegotiates its membership with the EU. Around the same time as the launch, 4400 businesses across the UK were surveyed, with 64% of businesses saying they believed that remaining in the EU, with powers brought back from Brussels, would have a positive rating. At the same time, 11% were saying that it would have a negative rating.
By contrast, 60% of firms said leaving the EU outright would have a negative impact on Britain. The status quo, remaining in the EU with no change to the UK’s relationship, had just 15% of business support.
Employment and health and safety regulations are just two of the areas where companies would like to see legislative competence return to Westminster from Brussels. However, on a more personal basis, I am confounded by legislation coming out of Brussels that has had a direct negative affect on my company’s expansion. I am referring to the legislation under Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals, better known as REACH. The legislators are compiling a list of chemical substances, which will be phased out over a period of time. Already on this list is Chromic Trioxide, which will exclude the use of chromic acid for metal finishing processes, such as conventional chrome plating. Chromic acid is a carcinogenic and its use in chrome plating has been strictly controlled and monitored over several years. The atmosphere local to the process operation is measured regularly and the operatives are subject to stringent health checks. In other words, the process is under tight control and complies with health and safety regulations.
My company was not contemplating carrying out chrome plating, but we were very interested in introducing a process for finishing stainless steel, which involved using chromic acid. Plant and equipment worth several thousand pounds was manufactures and then came REACH and with it uncertainty as to whether to proceed. The plant is lying idle.
So how do I feel about our membership of the European Union? I agree with the majority of British firms that leaving the EU would have a negative impact, but that the price for remaining in the Union is the return of certain powers to the politicians we voted for. Viewing it from my company’s position, let’s start with REACH.