There are two main European angles to the ongoing debate over the future of the UK steel industry.
Trade defence measures
Europe acting jointly has the clout to put real pressure on the Chinese government over steel dumping — but our government opposed stepping up EU action.
The EU has trade defence instruments to deal with situations like dumping. The problem is, less than 1% of total steel imports from China are covered by current defence measures. Compare this with the clear evidence of large-scale dumping from China, and it’s clear that our trade defence instruments are simply not working as they should.
It was revealed last week that EU governments have been trying for a while to reform the trade defence system, making it easier for trade defence measures such as import tariffs to be raised further against Chinese steel. But agreement on doing so has been blocked, believe it or not, by a minority of governments led by the British!
The revelation made a mockery of government claims that they would “continue to do all [they] can” in defence of our industry — only to admit rather sheepishly 24 hours later that, in fact, they were not prepared to coordinate tough anti-dumping measures against China with our European allies.
It also made a mockery of the brief attempts by Leave campaigners to turn the plight of steelworkers in Port Talbot to their own political ends.
Anti-EU campaigners repeatedly circulate a rumour that EU rules make it impossible to provide help to struggling British steel manufacturers.
Now, it’s true that we have agreed to a joint set of rules about the kinds of aid that are allowable within our European single market. Britain has historically been a staunch defender of these rules, because, without them, EU governments would compete to subsidise their manufacturers, the richest country would spend itself into a dominant position, and the rest of us would suffer.
But the claim that EU rules prevent us from supporting our industries is a bare-faced lie. The rules do allow appropriate aid in appropriate circumstances. Germany, France and Italy have already provided entirely legitimate support to their own industries, but Britain has not. To try to blame the EU for our own government’s refusal to act is the height of political disingenuousness.