The maritime technology sector urgently needs policies and investment to take on international competition, the EESC said in a recent exploratory opinion. The focus should be placed on skills training, finance and market access.

If Europe fails to implement a specific maritime industrial strategy, it risks becoming increasingly dependent on Asia for ships and maritime equipment. Many European harbours are already owned, in part or wholly, by Chinese companies. A sustainable strategy should reassess this ownership structure.

"The EESC believes that immediate action is necessary to strengthen Europe's maritime resilience, regain global competitiveness, protect Europe's strong position in complex shipbuilding and safeguard Europe's strategic maritime autonomy," said Anastasis Yiapanis, rapporteur for the EESC opinion.

A maritime expert group and a European industrial alliance for the maritime technology sector should be established to help the sector regain its competitiveness.

Despite an EESC own-initiative opinion adopted in 2018, The LeaderSHIP 2020 strategy as a vision for the maritime technology industry, which called for stronger support for the maritime sector, EU and national authorities had failed to provide the necessary policies.

The EESC expressed concern about barriers facing European companies wanting to do business in Asia. It called on the European Commission to make greater efforts to establish global trade rules and said it needed to act against foreign subsidisation and the injurious pricing of vessels as a matter of priority.

Existing bilateral free-trade agreements should be updated to ensure free market access for EU maritime companies and this must be included in future agreements. If international negotiations to achieve this are unsuccessful, the EU needs to consider unilateral actions to create leverage over its international competitors.

In its opinion, the EESC also noted the important role of the maritime technology industry in achieving a sustainable blue economy.

"The EESC calls for urgent measures that stimulate domestic demand for green and high-tech vessels, including an EU programme for fleet renewal and the retrofitting of existing vessels, in line with European Green Deal goals," co-rapporteur Christophe Tytgat said.

The EESC said its social partners and local manufacturers had waited in vain for stimulus to encourage the sector to switch to "green" vessels, alternative fuels and technologies to comply with the Fit-for-55 package. However, it welcomed the adoption of the Zero-Emission Waterborne Transport partnership, which is working towards zero-emission shipping.

The EESC called for stronger financial support for the EU Pact for Skills and for campaigns to make the sector more attractive for all workers, from engineers to welders and electricians.  Large-scale reskilling, upskilling and VET programmes are needed to ensure the sector can implement the green and digital transitions, the EESC said. (ks)