This year’s PolyTalk conference, organised in Brussels by PlasticsEurope, was a high-level event with a serious topic for its focus: the threats to competitiveness bearing down on Europe’s plastics industry. PlasticsEurope did well in bringing together European Commission officials, including some key director-generals, with senior executives from the plastics industry. The result was two days of high-level dialogue in which the fears of the industry that Europe is slipping behind the US and Asia were made abundantly clear.
Europe’s energy situation, and specifically its attitude to shale gas exploitation, was a key focal point. Jim Ratcliffe, chairman of Ineos, pulled no punches in his assessment of Europe’s reluctance to develop shale gas resources, asking “Who looks smarter, the Europeans or the Americans?” He said competitive energy prices are one of the key requirements for profitability, and Europe is far behind the US in this regard. Patrick Thomas, CEO of Bayer MaterialScience and president of PlasticsEurope, said the problem is more to do with Europe’s disjointed energy market where prices vary greatly from country to country.
Competitiveness is influenced by more than one factor. A manifesto on the competitiveness of the plastics industry, launched by PlasticsEurope and EuPC at PolyTalk, covers five areas. These are: competitive energy and raw materials; promotion of education and training; stimulating investment in innovation; consistent and complementary regulation; and involving the plastics industry in sustainability initiatives.
These are not new issues, as Thomas acknowledged at PolyTalk, but bringing them together in a manifesto enables the industry to focus the minds of EU policy makers on the most important concerns. And the manifesto is presented jointly by polymer producers and converters, as both groups are united in adversity created by negative perceptions of plastics among policy makers, the public and NGOs.
The manifesto makes it clear the plastics industry can be a strategic partner for European economic growth. The message is: OK Brussels, if you really want manufacturing to be at the heart of economic policy, then these are the things you can help us with.
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