This article was written by Anthony Lipmann. All views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.
If ever there was an analogy for the stomach-churning bureaucracy of the EU – it was the Eurovision Song Contest. Year after year audiences around Europe were bludgeoned into watching a garish display of committee-selected artists sing in places like Baku or Helsinki. How much did it all cost? No one dared ask. Who asked for it? No one ever told us. How were the votes placed? Well, we knew that; it was Euro-politics writ large, backroom deals between various colluding Eastern European nations, and the final winner - a compromise candidate.
Well, now for the first time in recent history, we have a European vote that wasn’t rigged up by a committee of 28 and the result is washing over me like a mountain stream. I feel as if all my Brexmases have come at once and, as a metal merchant and exporter, our trading vision turns ever outwards, to other lands and countries as yet uncolonised by Eurovision.
Let us take one of the core laws that affects all metal people – the EU Chemical Directive. In 2001, people in the minor metal trade caught the whiff of the rotting stench of this as yet not fully rancid law. Surely it could not be? Someone from a hastily stitched up entity called ‘Eurometaux’ - an entirely EU creation - claiming to represent metal people, a sort of ‘mirror mirror on the wall’ designed only to give the right answer, came to talk to our MMTA conference in Nice. ‘There is a law coming along which will mean that all consumers, producers and traders will henceforth have to co-operate to track the elements and substances that could affect the livelihoods of EU Citizens’, he told us. 30,000 EU lives (more important than any other kind of life of course), we were told, could be affected by substances brought into the EU. Seconded from a Belgian company, the gentleman from Eurometaux, whom I am sure had nothing at all to gain from a law which has done nothing except weed out the weak and increase the power of the strong and monopolistic, told us that under this EU Chemical Directive all metal companies were going to have to pay to comply to continue what we were already doing – trade or import metal into Europe.
Some of us left the room wondering if we had just heard the tolling of the bell for the end of our careers. In fact a number of collegiate companies, owned by middle-aged metal people, took the law as the starting pistol for gradual wind-down. In 2003, when I found myself as Chairman of the MMTA, I wondered what previous crime I had committed that now destined me to be punished by shepherding our association through this treacherous terrain?
For a very short time, I wondered whether it would be possible to fight for our industry. First, I visited the London Metal Exchange, hoping to make common ground, but was told that the matter ‘did not concern them - it was a matter for the customers of market’. I have never forgotten that. Then I attended meetings of the International Nickel Association where I witnessed gatherings of sensible and battle-worn metal people rubbing their heads in disbelief. This was still a moment when the bureaucracy had not quite taken over. Senior people, who were also traders such as myself, were still involved. I spoke to our members and the idea was conceived that the MMTA, standing alone, would try and take our case to the European Parliament. With the assistance of Trevor Tarring MBE (Former CEO of Metal Bulletin) we built our case and the day dawned when our tiny group of owner-occupier traders and metal merchants boarded a small plane for Strasbourg to make our presentation in the plush rooms of the parliament building. The only cohort to turn up to this widely publicized event was the whole of UKIP and a bright Liberal MEP, called Sharon Bowles, who was a trained chemist. I gave my speech with the usual passion, and later that evening we were invited to the Gadfly Club. This was a monthly dinner of UKIP MEPs who celebrated the description of them given by David Cameron. In order at least to entertain them in return for listening to our pleas on what was a rip-roaring and jovial evening, I sang The Elements song.
What we had failed to do, was to land even a limp punch onto the steam-roller (watch out for triple mixed metaphor) and tsunami of EU law heading like a dust storm in our direction! As the years rolled by, the EU Chemical Directive took on its monstrous shape. All chemicals and substances were, we were told, to be tested on animals for carcinogenic, epidermal or aquatic effects. Were there enough animals? Were there enough scientists? We were not told. What we were told was that the centre for animal testing was to be Finland. In the case of rhenium, we were advised that the test made in the 1930s to confirm that the element was non-toxic to the human organism was not valid and that animals would have to die to re-prove this. What did this tell us? That the EU was not interested in the science but in creating jobs in testing. We had to re-test using only EU approved scientific methods in EU approved laboratories. We had EUtopia, a new dark age, one that dismissed 1000 years of incremental scientific history. When it came to testing iron we knew we were lost for good.
Personally in despair as to how a small merchant could possibly survive and comply with this law, my saviour arrived in the form of a student from Kingston University where I had offered work experience. Advertising a temporary job in metals across the 15,000 strong campus, I received an application from one person. His name was Michael Husakiewicz, and has been my colleague for the last 10 years. Upon entering our office I explained the problem. A law was coming along that was going to stop me trading; not just because of the need to comply with its complexity, but because of what it was going to do to my brain and blood pressure – I was getting too angry to concentrate on trading when I read the directives. ‘No problem’, he said, ‘I will study it and see what we can do’. I said to Michael, ‘If you can take the law off my hands, I promise to make you a metal merchant’. The result - I took him on with full time salary when he was still to complete his last year at Uni. Michael has now sat for 7 years on ‘The Precious Metals & Rhenium Consortia’ the body governing EU compliance for platinum group metals, gold and silver, where we cleverly smuggled in our little orphan metal, rhenium, to sit at high table with the most precious metals in the world . Michael has had a ring side seat to observe and, at times, diminish the influence of the battalions of lawyers, accountants and researchers who have fed at our table of trade for the last 10-15 years.
Call me jaundiced , but when we learnt that neither coal nor oil would be part of the EU Chemical Directive, we then came to understand that the law was not at all about protecting EU citizens lives - but rather their livelihoods; in fact assisting bureaucratic snouts to feed from a very very large trough for generations.
At least that was the plan…..
The EU Chemical Directive is and was a law to end all law. A law that could literally tax the air and water in increments by requiring the testing of oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, to make sure it was safe, was not a law in our best interests, it was a tax. The tragic by-product was the way in which it denuded Europe of heavy industry. What metal company would not rather place their operations in, say, China, rather than comply with EU law that had made manufacturing in Europe virtually impossible? The hypocrisy of it was that the EU did not forbid the import of articles made under duress in China, so long as we did not have to listen to the screams or see the poverty of those engaged in making them.
The EU wanted a clean room and they virtually got it. Who were the people most hurt by this rule by diktat? The people the length and breadth of rural and industrial Europe whose jobs went East.
Today is a glorious day for the UK and I want to share it with you. Now starts the rest of our trading lives. Goodbye EUtopia.