BRITISH shipping seems to be more eurosceptic than might be assumed for an industry at the heart of world trade and although does not on balance favour withdrawal from the EU, several industry figures sharply criticised Brussels at a discussion organised by the Chamber of Shipping yesterday.
The event, which also featured contributions from leading commentators with no shipping connections, was organised as part of London International Shipping Week.
British prime minister David Cameron has pledged to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership and then put the matter to a referendum by the end of 2017 at the latest.
The business lobby, especially the financial sector, is usually presumed to be strongly in favour of continued membership.
But public opinion seems to be heading in the other direction, with one opinion poll last weekend found a narrow 51%-49% majority in favour of a split.
CoS chief executive Guy Platten argued that a Brexit — as British exit from the EU is colloquially known — is potentially both an opportunity and a threat. While staying in represents the safe option, it carries attendant risks.
Leaving the EU is not equivalent to leaving the single market, as a negotiated departure would enable market access to be maintained.
However, that would mean that Britain would no longer be at the top table when the rules are being discussed.
But if the UK remains a member after Cameron’s renegotiation attempts, Brussels might assume that it has a mandate to push for faster integration.
The CoS will publish a position paper later this year, which Mr Platten said could be summarised as “single market good, regulation bad”.
David Dingle, chairman of cruiseship operator Carnival UK and lobby group Maritime UK said that the EU is great idea in principle, but that it has gone wrong.
This is not to argue that it cannot be salvaged, but the rescue will be a tall order.
In particular, the European Commission exhibits a silo mentality, pushing worthy social ideals but lacking economic vision and is, at best, lukewarm towards business.
For instance, it has promulgated environmental regulations without considering their economic impact.
The sulphur directive is a case in point, being ambiguous and badly written, with no agreement on what it means.
“That’s not European Union, that’s European dis-union,” he quipped.
There is a need for a global regulator for shipping, in the form of the International Maritime Organization, that offers “a global level playing field for a global business”.
Shipping is a global industry with global assets, and can and will move elsewhere if European regulation becomes too onerous.
The EU must reject environmental goldplating and social protectionism. Read more