07 July 2003 00:00 [Source: ICB]Europe's industrial competitiveness is the hot agenda item. As businesses struggle with sluggish economic growth and reduced industrial output, companies, unions and politicians alike are calling for efforts at European Union level to make sure the regulatory framework does not hinder industrial activity.
But even with the establishment last year of the EU Competitiveness Council, forged by a merger of the former internal market, industry and research councils, little progress is evident. Industry still faces what it sees as over-burdensome regulations on chemicals policy, energy policy, emissions trading and GMO approval and labelling, to name but a few.
Unice, representing employers across Europe, is extremely unhappy with the Competitiveness Council, which, it says, 'needs to develop teeth'. In a recent letter to its president Apostolos Tsohatzopoulos, Unice pointed out that the council must:
- give clear statements on whether EU legislative proposals would enhance competitiveness; and
- gain authority relative to other council configurations and be able to give evaluations that contradict the opinion of other council formations, if this is needed.
No doubt it has a keen eye on the proposed new chemicals policy, much criticised for its high cost and negative impact on innovation. No doubt too that Unice will give this matter a high profile in coming months, as BASF's former chairman Jurgen Strube steps into the role of president of Unice, the 'voice of business in Europe', as it describes itself.
Progress on competitiveness, a coherent and sustainable industrial policy and more business-friendly regulation, especially in the environmental area, are three of Strube's top priorities for his initial two-year presidency. As a greatly experienced, senior chemicals industry figure, he is able to understand the issues and drive through action in these areas.
His other two priority areas are trade and external relations and social dialogue - again areas where the chemical industry is heavily involved, given its global nature and early mover positioning in corporate social responsibility.
But the key question is still whether the Competitiveness Council will live up to its special mandate, given to it at the Spring Summit of the EU heads of state, to assume an active role in enhancing competitiveness and growth by watching over all proposals considered likely to have an effect on Europe's competitiveness.
So far, says Unice, 'its relaxed approach fills the European business community with dismay.' The council must, it says, 'become a standard bearer for the vision set out in the Lisbon strategy, to make Europe the most competitive economy by 2010... if Europe wants a "competitiveness watchdog" that is capable of doing its job, it needs to be able to bark loudly and show its teeth when necessary.'
Whether it does so on the proposed chemicals policy will be a good test of its resolve - the case for serious amendment of the regulations is not in doubt, as they veer far too strongly to the environmental agenda, away from the economic.
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