Europe's shipbuilding industry needs the EU's strategic support. LeaderSHIP 2020 is the right tool, but needs to be reinforced and extended to 2030. Europe must become the frontrunner in research and development regarding challenges such as climate change, energy saving and the greater complexity of vessels, since the maritime industry is crucial to Europe's economic and social future. Clustering would strengthen this heterogeneous industry and make it more competitive. Streamlining education and making jobs attractive to young people, including by enhancing their mobility, is essential. Europe also needs to take a strong stance on the international market – WTO, OECD, FTAs – in order to fight unfair competition.
This was the bottom line of a conference organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on 24 October in Brussels. A number of experts, including representatives of SEA Europe, IndustrieAll and the Commission, had the opportunity to exchange views on the status of this vital industry.Europe needs to address the challenges
EESC member Marian Krzaklewski outlined the challenges facing the shipbuilding industry – an area where Europe was struggling to maintain its critical mass. "We do hope that the LeaderSHIP 2020 strategy moves on. The EESC and the social partners will contribute to it and we count on the Commission for good cooperation", he said at the outset.
In his opening speech, CCMI delegate Patrizio Pesci underlined the importance of the sector as a key industry with the potential for smart, inclusive and sustainable growth, a sector which was now not only struggling to recover from the economic and financial crisis, but was also suffering from unfair competition from third countries. "The maritime technology industry is an innovation-driven sector, providing 500 000 jobs for a highly skilled workforce and creating more than 400 000 indirect jobs. 9% of its revenue is reinvested in research, development and innovation. Europe cannot afford to abandon this sector", he noted.
In a keynote video message, Italian MEP Sergio Cofferati explained the situation in Italy and called for a more holistic approach to the maritime industry. He also stressed the many difficulties facing businesses – including access to finance – which were hindering innovation in general and a paradigm shift to industry 4.0.
The worst is still to come, but boosting the LeaderSHIP strategy would bring light at the end of the tunnel
Since the 1990s, when Europe and Japan were the main global players in the shipbuilding market, much has changed. In particular the emergence of South Korea as a new competitor in the 2000s, followed by China a decade later, has forced Europe to change its strategy. And for a while Europe was quite successful in securing niche markets such as high-tech and cruise ships. Since the global crisis in 2008, however, when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, the shipbuilding industry worldwide has suffered a serious setback.
"The worst is still ahead", warned Reinhard Lüken, Chair of SEA Europe's Market and Trade Working Group, as the lack of orders from previous years would only be felt in the years to come. "But we can get it right", he added. LeaderSHIP 2020 was the right tool, but it needed to be strengthened and probably translated into LeaderSHIP 2030. Unlike the EU, China had set up the right strategy and was aware of the importance of the naval industry. The next LeaderSHIP strategy needed to include the naval sector.
Research, education and mobility are key
Elspeth Hathaway, policy advisor at IndustriAll, underlined the importance of the maritime sector for job creation. Despite job losses ranging from 15% to 75% depending on the region, the blue economy still accounted for 5.4 million jobs in Europe, which still produced 50% of total marine supplies worldwide. The challenge ahead in this sector would be retaining skills. Life-long learning was particularly crucial in this high-tech sector. "It's important to anticipate employment and skills needs and to implement re-skilling and re-training programmes. We also need to give the right picture and attract young people to this sector", she said. Furthermore, mobility needed to be encouraged, and this would also require more common efforts regarding mutual recognition of qualifications across the EU.
"Waterborne transport and operations will be key for Europe's development and future", said Mario Dogliani, SEA Europe's technical director. The challenge ahead would be to build highly complex but sustainable vessels. EU maritime research needed to focus on energy efficiency, zero-accident and zero-emission-vessels.
Clusters and Europe-wide cooperation
Agnieszka Montoya-Iwanczuk from DG Grow presented a study showing that the European shipbuilding supply chain industry as a whole was bigger than China's or Japan's, but the main challenge was its heterogeneous structure, with a few big and many small companies. More cooperation in the supply chain, for instance clusters and a dedicated European maritime research, would be called for.
"This is a truly European challenge", concluded Mr Krzaklewski, "and the institutions must not fail to deliver a strategy to drive Europe's maritime sector back to the top and take a strong stance on the world market over our competitors. The EESC will provide every possible support in this process".