European Plastics Industry Addresses Competition Hurdles

10.11.2014 -

In a Manifesto on the Competitiveness of the Plastics Industry in Europe presented at a conference held in Brussels on Nov.4, the two organizations representing plastics producers and processors - Plastics Europe and European Plastics Converters (EuPC) - called on EU policy makers to help the industry compete internationally and not throw stones in its path.

Under the heading "European Industrial Renaissance...Let's Make it Happen" speakers at the conference - including economist Jeremy Rifkin, James Woudhuysen, professor of forecasting and innovation at the UK's De Montfort University, Karl Falkenberg, director general of DG Environment at the European Commission and Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe - addressed Europe's handicap in competition with regions such as that have access to cheaper feedstocks and energy.

An especially pressing problem for the plastics industry, as the organizations point out in the manifesto, is that "there is no level playing field in Europe regarding energy cost, as there is no harmonized energy market."

This energy deficit is seen as especially challenging in competition with North America, where shale gas has improved local producers' position enormously. Toward strengthening Europe's hand, PlasticsEurope and EuPC called on the EU to "enable responsible exploration and production of shale gas."

A second issue plastics producers and converters believe needs addressing is the growing shortage of skilled labor. The number of science graduates and technical apprentices is declining, they note in the paper. To remedy the situation, they recommend introducing topics such as plastics manufacturing, converting and recycling into the school curriculum and introducing a European degree in plastics and a "superior level."

Infrastructure is another problem the industry feels needs tackling. Here the national and regional players see communications deficits on the part of European institutions, which they say should encourage more investment, and also address problems of energy efficiency.

The lack of harmonized chemicals legislation is also a thorn in the plastics industry's side. Here, European players would like to see the EU encourage a "risk-based approach with evidence-based assessment to inform political decision making." They also would like to see improved monitoring of imports into the single market to assure that they comply with European standards.

As part of their concern that science and technology should be awarded the importance they believe they are due, European companies have called for the position of Chief Scientific Advisor to the president of the European Commission to be strengthened and a "network of equivalent positions" created to advise national governments.

Among other points, the plastics industry's manifesto also urges that the sector be included in discussions related to reindustrialization, recycling and waste management.

Pointing to the sector's crucial importance, Plastics Europe president Patrick Thomas (CEO of Bayer MaterialScience) stressed in Brussels: "The European plastics industry is a strategic pillar of the manufacturing sector, with a huge capacity for innovation and a knock-on effect on other key areas of the economy.

"We are determined to invest in Europe's future and work with policy makers and other key stakeholders to shape a sustainable growth roadmap for the European plastics industry," Thomas added.   

A recurring theme of the discussion at the conference was the view that Europe will not be able to achieve its climate and environment goals without a viable manufacturing sector. In this vein, Ineos' Ratcliffe, whose company has been at the forefront of efforts to import US shale gas-derived ethane, asserted that Europe must have a "measured approach.

"We cannot sacrifice our industries while pursuing other goals. Europe has to develop competitive energy sources because the ramifications of not doing so are so huge, Ratcliffe advised. "There are literally millions of jobs at stake."