David CameronCameron's announcement on the UK's relationship with the EU has met with a mixed response from some in the UK manufacturing industry.
As a voice for companies involved in medical plastics, it is essential that Medical Plastics News employs diplomacy wherever there is a potential conflict of interest. Editorially, this can be a balancing act. Take, for example, challenges faced by the medical PVC industry.
In the January-February 2013 edition of Medical Plastics News we report on page 6 about how this sector has faced critics and invited debate on two key issues—plasticisers in medical devices and PVC’s environmental footprint.
Balancing this, an opposer of PVC in medicine, former environmental controller for Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, Anne Marie Vass, is interviewed on pages 48-49. Anne Marie explains why the hospital considered phasing out the use of PVC, quoting concerns over the safety of DEHP and the economics of PVC incineration as reasons.
On the subject of balancing acts, the UK’s prime minister, David Cameron, has announced his position on EU membership. Aiming for a competitive EU marketplace, he wants to renegotiate terms of membership and then, if his party wins the next election, hold a referendum asking Britons to vote yes or no on whether the UK should stay in the EU. He has had to balance support for membership from many in his party, including stakeholders in the UK’s manufacturing industry, with passionate objections from Euro-skeptics in his back-benches. Without back-bench support, he is unlikely to win the next election.
Philip Law, public and industrial affairs director at the British Plastics Federation (BPF), explains his view: “We want to see an EU that provides a harmonised market with light touch legislation to facilitate internal trade—one which takes advantage of the greater economies of scale to enable the EU to compete successfully in the global marketplace.” He added: “There are serious question marks against the EU's success in delivering these. The debate isn't one for the UK exclusively. It's something all EU states should face up to.”
Some UK-based manufacturing businesses see Cameron’s move as potentially damaging, while others diplomatically say that membership is a vital ingredient to future success.
According to Eddie O’Keeffe, chief executive of Europlaz, a UK plastic medical device contract manufacturer: “A referendum after 2014 could cause uncertainty and a lack of customer confidence in British exports. Chinese and US firms may not be so keen to use the UK as a base for investment if we are not in the EU.”
Neil Armstrong, CEO of regulatory affairs consultancy MeddiQuest, believes Cameron will be unsuccessful in renegotiating the terms of membership and described the move as being like “a euro-skeptic anti-business government’s pandering to the lowest common denominator of xenophobia on its back-benches”. He said: “Cameron’s veto in December cost us 20% of our turnover last year. This week we have had two US customers tell us they would not be going further with European representation through us and are looking for alternatives in Germany.”
For a heavily regulated industry like that for medical devices, there is a feeling of disconcern about leaving. Andrew Summerfield, regulatory affairs manager at UK antimicrobials firm BioCote, explains: “Legislation such as that governing trade in medical devices, antimicrobials and chemical products has had significant resources invested in it by member states to ensure an optimal balance of safety, efficacy and ease of trade. If the UK were to leave, new rules would likely be in line with current EU laws. Developing an entirely new set of like-for-like laws would introduce another bureaucratic hurdle.”
Dan Jones, communications director at the UK’s Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI), reinforced the value of the status quo: “The UK’s current role within the European Union provides a single regulatory regime ensuring that all devices on the market adhere to the highest safety standards. It provides UK companies with a large unified market and removes barriers to trade while attracting foreign investment in the form of large multinationals choosing the UK as a manufacturing location.”