Do we need a European flexo umbrella organisation?

ITALY • Several European flexo associations met in Bologna, Italy in Autumn 2013, to discuss the formation of a umbrella organisation. In spring 2014, a second meeting was held in Brussels and in November the third meeting will be held in Paris, France. The editor of Flexo & Gravure Global, Sebastian Reisig, interviewed Sante Conselvan (ATIF) and Roel Seele (EFTA-Benelux), the two driving forces behind this project, to find out about the current state of discussion and the aim of this approach.

Last Autumn in Bologna on the occasion of the Italian Flexo Day event organised by ATIF, the Italian Flexo Association, a couple of flexo associations have met to discuss the formation of an European umbrella organisation. Could you please wrap up what has been decided there?

Sante Conselvan: We decided to create a network to exchange information and ideas as we more or less have to deal with the same situations. This means sharing technical information, experience, data, or even exchange experts. We believe that this will improve knowledge and shorten development cycles, and save money and time. Each European market is comparably small, but combined we are huge.

Roel Seele: The initiative for this meeting came from Sante, President of ATIF, he invited all the European flexo associations to Italy. First each association explained the activities in their countries and how, and what problems they each have. We realised that we are all experiencing the same issues, no matter where we are from. The next step was to discuss how we can benefit from each others experience and knowledge. For instance, EFTA Benelux has developed material to educate operators and there is an option to share this with the other associations or to organise a course for flexo printers.

Sante Conselvan, President ATIF (Source: ATIF)
Sante Conselvan, President ATIF (Source: ATIF)

What are the next steps in forming the new European association?

Sante Conselvan: At the end of June we will meet again in Brussels, Belgium. Our vision is to verify the possibilities of establishing a Pan-European association that covers all the local associations under one umbrella. The main goal is to have a mutually beneficial cooperation. In my opinion, the most important aim is to cooperate in the fields of education, dissemination of technical information, and the organisation of European events. In one word: promote flexographic printing on a European level. In Europe there aren’t many schools that teach flexo and train the operators of the future. The problem is that there are also no teachers with knowledge in flexo. In the current set up, local associations do not possess the capability to address this issue, therefore we have to unite in order to take flexo to the next level.

Another reason is that not every country has a technology centre to conduct trials. The British association EFIA is able to carry out tests at Swansea University, but its not their own technology centre. So far, only Germany and Sweden have their own technology centre where it is possible to train operators and technicians. According to my information, the French are planning to build a centre. We all can purchase the same technology, but if we don’t have operators that know by 100% how to proper handle this technology, poor results are the problem. Education is the key!

Roel Seele: The next meeting which is organised by the EFTA-Benelux is going to be at least as big as the last meeting in Bologna.

In terms of equipment, the German technology centre is unique in Europe, or even the world. Why should they join a Pan-European association and share their knowledge and capabilities?

Sante Conselvan: I don’t think that being competition is the point. Every printer has to compete with all the other printers, whether they are from the same country or not, Czech or Germany. To only think on a national level doesn’t help. Multinational companies like Barilla or Nestle demand high quality from all their printers no matter where they are located. Printers in Germany encounter the same issues as printers in Slovakia, Portugal, Sweden.

Roel Seele: Its not that they weren’t interested, they simply had no time to attend. You know better than I that the DFTA has had some changes in staff. My guess is that they need some more time to deal with this matter before addressing external topics. The DFTA is leading in terms of research and development, Prof Dr Martin Dreher is doing an excellent job. They organise seminars and other events, so they are willing to share their knowledge. Having said that, joining the continent spanning association doesn’t mean that you have to give away all your knowledge! But even for them it would make sense to join the umbrella association in order to increase their leverage in Europe. I personally hope that they will join us as they represent many printers and other companies.

In times of the internet and many technical conferences organised by private companies, why should a printer still join an association?

Roel Seele, Chairman EFTA-Benelux
Roel Seele, Chairman EFTA-Benelux (Source: EFTA-Benelux)

Sante Conselvan: Especially now they should join! In times of crisis, people need valuable information more than ever before. We focus on providing education and technical information.

Roel Seele: One of our goals is to have a big influence on European legislation. Currently flexo printers aren’t at the same table as legislation makers. If are able to represent all companies from the flexo industry, we have a bigger voice and attract more attention from the European Union. That’s why I believe it would make sense to have the headquarters of the umbrella association in Brussels, just like many other associations. Local associations have their right to exist, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. Associations for example try to bring the technology to another level, serve as a forum and lobby for the industry. But I agree, there are alternatives.

That’s a good point. But then I wonder why you only intend to form a flexo only association and not a package printing association that also represents gravure printers and converters etc?

Roel Seele: Some days ago, we had a discussion with representatives from the European Union, and they suggested forming a flexible packaging or package printing organisation. So we are aware that the EU would like that. Now we have to discuss with the other FTA’s whether this makes sense for us. But you are right, the bigger the association, the higher is the impact of our statements and we cannot be overheard by Brussels.

Sante Conselvan: For the moments it supposed to be a flexo association. As you know there are already other important Associations that represent the packaging industry (as FPE, ECMA, FINAT) or the printing industry (as INTERGRAF, ERA). But this does not mean that we cannot cooperate with those associations.

Not every European association accepted your invitation. What kept them away?

Roel Seele: As I mentioned before the Germans didn’t attend as they had another appointment at that time. We were also missing the Turks.

In total, Europe has more than 80 languages. The EU has designated at least 24 languages as official and working. How do you deal with the language barrier?

Roel Seele: Indeed, there is a language barrier. Europe is divided not only by language, but also by culture. But I feel that we can grow together. And when it comes to flexo printing, we are all in this together. Here in the Netherlands everybody speaks good English. But I believe that especially for education it is necessary to have material in the native language of the local people.

Sante Conselvan: We all speak one common language, and that is flexo! Not everybody speaks proper English, however the young generation does. For them it is not an issue. However, even if you don’t speak good enough English, if you know flexo you will understand most of the technical presentations.

Go to the next page for an interesting opinion on the co-operation between the European flexographic associations, written by Tony White.

Sebastian Reisig
Sebastian Reisig is the editor of the leading international technical magazines PackagingFilms and Flexo & Gravure Global at G&K Techmedia GmbH. In 1998 he took his first steps into this industry when he started his apprenticeship as a flexo printer. In 2009 he successfully graduated as a printing engineer. He has been with G&K TechMedia since 2009.

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