Can business affect positive change to EU bureaucracy? Jane Gray talks to Terry Scuoler, newly appointed chair of CEEMET, about the challenge.
“Anyone with any experience of dealing with the EU parliament and its commissions will know that the associated management processes and institutions are deeply flawed and in dire need of reform,” says Terry Scuoler, CEO of UK manufacturing trade body EEF and newly appointed chairman of CEEMET, the European trade association for metals, engineering and technology based industries.
“But let us handle that reform from within,” he continues. “Just going across [to Brussels] and constantly criticising is not the best thing to do.”
In the advent of a UK referendum on EU membership, EEF has clearly set out its stall, emphasising its belief that membership is an overall positive for business and industry. It has strongly sold the benefits of the single market – not only for trade of products, but also for movement of labour, as well as perks like a common patent system.
However, in taking on the CEEMET chairmanship Mr Scuoler has now turned to focus on the ways in which the EU competitive proposition can be further improved; for the UK’s benefit, for the wider European industrial community and for European society.
Setting out a vision
CEEMET’s Manifesto for Industrial Competitiveness
This document was presented to MEPs in Strasbourg on July 3 and sets out some priority targets which EU reform must achieve in order to foster competitiveness, wealth creation and answer some of Europe’s social troubles.
1. Better regulation: resulting in enhancements to the single market, more support for SMEs, continued work on the consolidation and simplification of the regulatory framework and appreciation for work-life balance and changing workforce demographics
2. Dynamic labour markets with skilled workers: resulting in more efficient education systems based on business needs and innovation and R&D outcomes as well as improved careers guidance, available on both a national and EU level
3. A better dialogue with industry: resulting in more input from industry into regulation of working life and the evolution of consultation with industry, alongside social dialogue, at a European level
CEEMET represents over 200,000 member companies across 23 European nations.
On July 3 he set out the CEEMET manifesto for growth and increased competitiveness in Europe to MEPs (see box).
The document recognises some deep-set social maladies across the continent, particularly the south, and puts forward a more active role for business in remedying these.
A long term member of the board of directors for CEEMET, Scuoler is far from a novice in the workings, or lack thereof, of European bureaucracy and while acknowledging the size of the challenge before him, he is determined to lead a period of change during his tenure.
“My appointment coincides with a marked increase in the level of investment by member companies in CEEMET resources and the CEEMET team in Brussels,” Scuoler relates. “And with that resourcing, there comes a higher level of obligation for myself and the director general to communicate the frustration which is coming to a head about the attention Brussels seems to give to legislation and regulation rather than the need to be competitive. The need to drive investment, productivity and address the EU’s net trade balance must be elevated.”
Scuoler has pushed hard in the last couple of years to rationalise CEEMET’s stance and recommendations on these issues and, he says, his recent appointment as chairman may be related, not only to this, but also to his British status since – while many in UK continue to complain that it is not a competitive place to make things – “European partners today see the British view [of competition] and the British economy as one they would like to model their own on – at least far more than they have done historically.”
It’s flattering for both Scuoler and Britain that its industrial recovery is seen from outside in such a positive light, and that Scuoler – as someone who has been close to that recovery – is sought out to share his observations with forums and at events in Germany, Italy, Spain and more.
But neither Britain nor Scuoler can rest on their laurels. “There is still a great deal more that can be done in the UK environment in terms of getting stronger consumer growth to drive output. And there’s surely so much more to be done to access the BRIC markets and the rest of the top twenty developing economies identified by the UK government as growth hubs.”
Turning back to Europe, Scuoler continues, “But when you consider that there are four or five economies in the EU which are flat-lining and another four or five that are contracting it is clear that driving growth across the EU is essential for the region as a whole and for the UK as an exporter.” It’s worth remembering that around half of UK exports are still Europe-bound.
Given the mutual benefits to be had from a stronger Europe, Scuoler is committed to taking a collaborative approach to reform and growth.
“As a Brit, I learned very quickly at EEF that if I went to meetings in Brussels regarding competition-limiting regulations, it was very difficult to get my message across,” he says.
“If I went to those meetings with colleagues from, say, France, Germany and perhaps a southern periphery counterpart, the commissioners listened.”
This combination of forces works well in the interests of European industry says Scuoler since so many representatives are concerned with similar issues. Primarily, for the moment, with unprecedented levels of unemployment as a symptom of underinvestment and burdensome business regulation.
“These utterly appalling employment figures, particularly in the southern periphery nations, are linked to other issues of competitiveness and to the political agenda in a way we have never seen before in the EU,” Scuoler states emphatically. “Even the great industrial machine that is Germany is beginning to suffer from over regulation,” he asserts.
Indeed, the common interest in seeing reform of the EU regulatory environment and an increased will to foster competitiveness is so compelling that the only great wonder is that so little change in structure and policy has been seen to date.
“It puzzles me,” says Scuoler, “that I speak to so many people in Europe, including senior parliamentarians and commissioners, who voice a desire for reform, and yet getting that reform is so difficult.”
Should business lead this reform which has so many political, social and cultural issues at its core?
Scuoler believes firmly that it can. “The very wide range of business people coming together now to express their concerns can have a big impact,” he says. “They, and we, are the motors of change.”