03 October 2005 15:52 [Source: ICIS news]
By Nigel Davis
NICE, France (ICIS news)--Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Companies want Cefic, the European chemicals trade group, to change and give them more bang for their buck. They spend a lot of money on advocacy at the European level and are heavily involved in sector groups and national trade associations.
They want something to change. But as yet, they’re not sure how to change it.
The proposed Cefic re-organisation under the Chemistry for Europe banner, exemplifies so much that is good and bad about Europe. Chemical companies interact with national governments and the European Union, Brussels and Strasbourg, through a matrix of pan-European and local groups and industry associations. The trouble is it is not always easy to see how effective this web of influence is.
It is not so much that Cefic is ineffective: what it says and does often works. Rather that companies seek influence where they can and then become deeply worried about spending too much. They want greater clarity of purpose form their European trade association – in much the same way they urged a stronger advocacy role on its US counterpart the American Chemistry Council (ACC).
That cannot be bad. But the big question in Europe for almost two years has been to change to what and how. There were some answers this weekend at the global chemical industry's European convention, but not many. Cefic will re-organise, slim down possibly and aim to deliver pan-European service. Now it has to decide how.
Getting the structure right is of key concern for the trade group as its seeks a stronger relationship with a relatively new European Commission (EC) as well as other European Union (EU) institutions. Top of the agenda in this relationship has to be Reach, the EC’s proposed new chemicals policy, but also newly proposed European Union (EU) programmes such as Scale, which is looking into environmental impacts on children’s health.
Reach has largely united the industry but cracks have emerged. Strains have been put on existing relationships, particularly those between the most effective national trade associations and Cefic, and between Cefic and large companies in Europe that seek stronger representation in Brussels – often their own – some believe at Cefic’s expense.
Fomenting change has not been easy. Making that change happen will be more difficult.
This could be a long-term project for it will have to convince the majority that new structures will be more effective.
But does Cefic have time? Cefic represents the industry as does the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in the US and at least it admits that its lobbying can be more focused and effective.
Industry chief executives in Nice for the global dialogue meeting, and the SCI annual European industry meeting on Monday focused on trust but as became clear in a wide-ranging debate there are different views on what the sector can and cannot do in Europe to promote itself and its business activities.
There are companies prepared to move ahead faster on industry trust, reputation and sustainable development issues. Others want the comfort of a global or at least regional trade association delivered approach.
It is not clear yet whether the more forward looking will get the regional let alone the global response they want. There is a sense of frustration in the air. Stepping ahead on trust and broader sustainable development issues might yield competitive advantage so it is not surprising that some appear to want to go it alone.
Before Cefic changes and before big decision are made, however, the industry needs to clear the hurdle of Reach and understand better the implications of whatever eventually passes into law. These are vitally important months for the sector as it gears up its lobbying effort with Europe’s Council of Ministers to try to get a more workable and acceptable Reach programme. Reach is likely to pass into law in 2006 after which chemical companies will have a better idea of who trusts them and who don't.
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