BLOG POST: Industry needs an EU that is flexible, our new MEPs must fight for reform. Guy Platten, CEO, UK Chamber of Shipping

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Maritime UK, of which the UK Chamber is a member, has this week published a survey of 100 executives from across the shipping, ports and maritime business services sectors, highlighting their attitudes to the European Union.

It makes for fascinating reading.

80% believed the UK should remain in the EU, 68% felt the European Commission had too much power and 64% believed that the EU’s founding principle of ‘ever closer union’ should be scrapped.

And in a show of support for the Prime Minister, 67% of respondents claimed Mr Cameron was right to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s relationship with the European Union.

What seems clear is that the industry wants to be in Europe but a Europe where there are clear boundaries for individual member states to operate within, encouraging competition, innovation and growth. 

There can be little doubt that the single market has provided huge benefits to our industry, and to the UK economy as a whole. The single market gives UK businesses guaranteed access to the world’s largest trading bloc with 500 million people and 21 million companies generating £11 trillion in economic activity. Since 1992, the UK’s bilateral trade with EU member states has more than trebled and trade with Europe accounts for roughly 3.5m jobs in the UK, around 11% of the workforce.

Given that the shipping industry moves 95% of the UK’s trade, much of which goes to and comes from our European neighbours, it seems evident that it is not the single market that is our concern. It’s regulation.

As a shipping industry, we are globally regulated for a reason. The IMO provides a global level playing field that allows, even encourages, healthy competition by ensuring ships all play by the same rules. But the European Union has a nasty habit of gold-plating IMO regulations, and this puts the very concept of a global level playing field at risk.

The European Commission believes in competiveness, but it has to understand that in an industry where global regulation exists, too much regional regulation is asking for trouble.

Here at the UK Chamber, when IMO discusses and passes new regulation, we often receive reams of paper – definitions, guidance notes, and consultation documents – from Europe on the very same issues IMO is discussing. Occasionally this can also lead to ‘gold plating’ of IMO regulations on a regional basis which often does not take true cognisance of the global nature of our industry and can undermine our competitiveness.   

The results of this survey are clear – the shipping industry wants an EU that is flexible, dynamic and focused on competitiveness. But it is deeply concerned that we have an EU that is perceived to be inflexible, bureaucratic and heavy-handed. We recognise the vital importance of regulation within our industry be it safety, environmental or competition however this has to be proportionate to what is happening at a global level.

Whatever the results of the forthcoming European Parliamentary election, and whatever your views on our membership, our new MEPs must listen, learn, and fight for a reformed European Union – one that ensures we can compete effectively on a national, regional and global level creating jobs and economic growth even if that means fighting for a European Union that legislates less.