Content with the continent?

News editor

Engineering and manufacturing leaders are warning that Britain’s future prosperity depends on staying within the European Union, while the Battle of Ideas returns to London

The question of Britain’s membership of the EU should reach some sort of conclusion by the end of 2017, assuming plans for a referendum on the subject come to fruition by then.

It’s a hot topic and certain tabloids appear to revel in a position that paints the EU as anti-democratic, bureaucratic, and not serving the best interests of the UK.

We’ll be going it alone après referendum if this sentiment is reflected by the British public, but would it be a sensible course for the nation to take?

Toshiyuki Shiga, Nissan’s chief operating officer, doesn’t think so and last week he expressed his fears regarding Nissan’s export position in the wake of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

Nissan exports around 80 per cent of the vehicles it manufactures in the UK and in an article on 8 October in the Daily Telegraph he spoke of potential ‘obstacles’ that Britain’s departure from the EU would present to the automotive heavyweight. In the article he said remaining in the EU was ‘much simpler as matters such as vehicle safety regulation, emissions regulations and import duties were the same.’

It appears that 85 per cent of UK manufacturers want to remain in the EU too, according to a report and survey published by EEF today.

EEF said: ‘Companies warn that the UK’s membership is central to their investment and business plans. A third said that if the UK was to leave the EU, they were less likely to increase investment in Britain. And two thirds indicated that they would have to make significant changes to their business plans if the UK exits.’

Manufacturing: Our Future in Europe urges the UK to remain in the EU and to strengthen its position in it as ‘economic benefits far outweigh concerns about regulation or the repatriation of powers.’

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF said: ‘It is naïve to think we can simply pull up the drawbridge and carry on as normal. The debate must move on to how we can make Europe work to support jobs, growth and higher living standards.

‘We need to focus on the real prize – how we can get Europe to work better supporting companies that are looking to sell into the EU, to export to new markets in the rest of the world and develop new products and services.

‘We must be at the centre of the change we want to see in Europe, to help secure the prize and ensure we share in it.’

The report states:

  • Manufacturers say the UK must remain part of the European Union – with no ‘ifs or buts’
  • The EU is central to their business and investment plans – and thereby to jobs and growth in Britain
  • Significant risk to investment and changes to business plans if UK exits
  • An effective EU will support UK efforts to build a stronger, better balanced economy which delivers better trading conditions, more employment and raises living standards
  • Government must frame the debate about Europe around growth and the economy
  • Size of prize for UK in terms of trade deals with the rest of the world, funding for innovation, completing the single market and smarter regulation is much greater than opting out of individual regulations
  • Focus must be on making EU work better for growth rather than negotiating a special deal

Still with the EU and news that the European Commission is to adopt a final EU-wide list of 250 energy infrastructure priority projects ‘of common interest’ until 2020, which will be eligible for EU funding worth €5.85bn.

The list includes up to 140 projects in electricity transmission and storage, around 100 projects in the field of gas transmission, storage and LNG, and several oil and smart grids projects.

A burgeoning area emissions control comes under the spotlight this week with IMechE hosting Carbon capture & storage seminar: Engineering for commercial deployment.

Norway recently shelved its full-scale carbon dioxide capture at Mongstad but IMechE believes large-scale investment in UK CCS projects appear imminent, stating, ‘The technology is increasingly proven and its application is necessary if the UK government wishes to meet its CO2 emission reduction commitments without incurring unnecessary and damaging reductions in the security of electricity.’

Taking place this Wednesday and Thursday, speakers will include business and energy minister Michael Fallon, shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex, and energy and climate change spokesperson Baroness Bryony Worthington.

Finally, this weekend sees a return of Battle of Ideas to the Barbican Centre in London.

The multi-faceted weekend of discussion includes a number of sessions that we think readers of The Engineer would be interested to hear and take part in.

Two strands on the Saturday are of particular interest with infrastructure and 3D printing coming to the fore.

In Infrastructure and investment: have we lost our nerve? speakers including Richard Hoare, Capital Projects and Infrastructure Team, PwC; and Paul Westbury CEO, Buro Happold will look at the climate in which infrastructure projects thrive or struggle.

Specifically, they will look at why some projects succeed and other fail to get started, asking:

  • Is the problem the lack of a political sponsor, able to conjure up the compelling vision necessary to inspire support and private investment?
  • Are environmental issues and concerns taken too seriously, or is the problem a NIMBY attitude that ignores the bigger picture?
  • Should more effort be spent in deregulation and easing up the planning process to encourage competition between construction providers?
  • Or is there an unwillingness to tear down existing infrastructure because no-one wants to lose face over betting on untested new ideas?

Additive manufacturing gets an airing too, with Dr Paul Reeves, senior technology manager, Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks R&D, producing and speaking in a discussion that intends to put the hype around 3D printing into perspective.

As a precursor to Saturday’s discussion, Reeves wrote today in City AM: ‘To ensure that the real potential of additive manufacturing can be realised, businesses will require teams of trained chemists, physicists and metallurgists, serious R&D budgets and, in many cases, long-term, open-ended research to produce a pipeline of truly innovative materials over the coming decades.’

More information about this weekend’s event can be found here.