Renewable Matter # 11 / July-August

How Brexit Will Penalize the Bioeconomy

by Christian Patermann

The UK’s exit from the EU will strongly affect the British EU economy. It will also have repercussions on the relation with the EU with regard to access to markets, movement of researchers or participation in Horizon 2020’s funded projects.

 

Media is full of news and analyses on Brexit. All European households are talking about it, whereas politicians, investors, entrepreneurs and foreign citizens living in the United Kingdom (and vice versa) are spending sleepless nights dealing with it. 

Why should therefore one focus – even only for a moment – on Brexit’s future impact on bioeconomy?

The answer is quite simple: it is hard to find another area in technological research and development, innovation and future European transnational cooperation which could be more eloquent – and appropriate – to reflect the dire consequences of the decision made on 23rd June.

As a matter of fact, the United Kingdom, its politicians, researchers and entrepreneurs have never appeared among the supporters of bioeconomy: they did not appear among pioneers or confident promoters of the – simultaneously new and old – idea to increase use of biological resources. The main supporters have appeared in the Benelux, Scandinavia, parts of in Germany and, later, in Italy and France, regarding applied bioeconomy. 

Concerning the prospect of a European bio-based economy, UK representatives have had a “wait-and-see” attitude. They must have taken all the time they needed to manage and define the best solution for their country, its companies and its society. As the United Kingdom is not a farming-based country, does not have many biomass resources, but must manage high amounts of waste, the British government has adopted a step-by-step approach. Although no national strategy existed and they were working to find one, globally renowned companies appeared, including NNFCC, Celtic Renewables and Biome Bioplastics, whereas BioVale (technological cluster in Yorkshire and Humber) has partnered in interesting cooperation projects with the Benelux, France and Germany. 

Scotland – being one of the first European regions to do it – has developed a strategy for independently biorefining and for the first time, in 2012, the potential of bioeconomy was dealt with during a hearing in Parliament. 

In spite of their “uphill route” – as Mario Bonaccorso defined it in his recent UK Dossier written for Renewable Matter – UK colleagues were and are aware they have strong and actual benefits, real strengths, compared to the rest of Europe: excellences in research, technology and innovation operate and “set trends” in the country. In addition, Great Britain has quite unique technical skills and competencies in network creation and the ability to integrate and implement a pragmatic approach in knowledge transfer to products, throughout the value chain. And of course, it also has a strong sense of economy. All the aforementioned are undoubtedly essential for bioeconomy to thrive. 

It is not a coincidence, for example, that the first Green Investment Bank was instituted in the United Kingdom and that our colleagues on the other side of the Channel have been the first to support the need and to start operating – to back the development of European bioeconomy – in a new service sector, also including legal services, specific project management to handle circular value chains, appropriate marketing and thorough financial requirements. And to be effective, said services will need a compact Europe and perhaps – in the future – even global structures and agreements. 

This is the very area where the absence of our friends leaving the Union will be felt sooner.

It is obviously still impossible to know exactly what the impact of the “Brexit Bioeconomy” will be in the United Kingdom or on its relationship with the European Union, regarding market access or researchers exchange within the Marie Curie Programme, or participation in projects funded in the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme. 

If we look around us, several possible scenarios exist, involving non-EU members, having, notwithstanding, intense relationships with the European Union: a “Norway scenario”, an “Iceland scenario”, a “Switzerland scenario” and so on and so forth. One thing is certain, based on experiences made in the last few years and that I would like to stress: everything will become more complex and will take even longer. I doubt that somebody could end up being a “winner”, suffice it to say that over 120 treaties currently regulate the relationships of Switzerland and the EU.

I was very surprised by UNFCCC’s declaration, published the day after the vote on Brexit, claiming that the British government would have been pushed to recognize the pivotal role played by European bioeconomy in innovation, development and future common challenges, last but not least, European transnational cooperation.

The famous song It is a long way to Tipperary reads: “Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square,” but in European bioeconomy and technological research and development, you, dear colleagues of the United Kingdom, will always be welcome. 

In the meantime, while the media is already speculating on the transfer of large companies headquarters – including Vodafone – from Great Britain to the continent, it is worth reflecting on this issue and how it can be exemplary. The question is: would it have been possible to create Vodafone Group, set up after the acquisition of the German company Mannesman authorized by the European Union over ten years ago, if a common European standard on GSM – later adopted globally – had not been issued within a European single market? And if the United Kingdom had not been a fully-fledged EU member?

I cannot imagine a more appropriate example to have an overview of the potential impact of Brexit on the future of a bio-based world and life that us, Europeans, were the first to relaunch, 11 years ago. 

Today we are all still facing an uphill route! 

 

 

Green Investment Bank, www.greeninvestment bank.com