The European Commission must deliver an ambitious maritime and industrial strategy that is fully capable of addressing today’s challenges, such that businesses’ economic potential can be developed, the recruitment pledges honoured and Europe’s leadership within the global market cemented. The industry is set to play a central role in the key issues shaping the agenda of the next European five-year term: mounting trade and military tensions, our businesses’ resistance to Brexit and non-EU holdings in European company capital, for example, all underscore the importance of shoring up a sustainable and competitive industrial base. For the maritime and shipbuilding industries, there is much at stake:
1/ Greater appreciation of the maritime economic opportunities by the European Union
The European Union has developed a fragmented approach to maritime public policymaking. Although there is a dedicated European Commissioner and Directorate-General, the scattering of maritime responsibilities does not best serve a long-term strategy. The GICAN is therefore advocating better coordination of European maritime public policy. Accordingly, we are taking up the issue of renewing the fleet alongside fishermen, in a bid to help move the occupation forward by designing new, greener vessels. The work in progress at national and European level with Shipowners is also expected to lead to joint work prospects being defined.
2/ Consolidation between European businesses must be supported to gain competitive clout
To secure our long-term role on the global shipbuilding stage where new Asian competitors have emerged, consolidation between European businesses is crucial. An initial milestone has already been reached with the Franco-Italian partnerships in the sector: these efforts must now be extended to Germany, Northern Europe and Spain so as to safeguard the competitiveness and viability of Europe’s supply – for the domestic and export markets alike. In addition, it is our duty to preserve Europe’s industrial independence by protecting our port infrastructure in the face of global competition – not least from Asia. In this regard, the French shipbuilding industry shall keep a close watch over the latest developments in the promotion of Chinese interests in Europe – a logical next step in the One Belt One Road strategy.
3/ Research and innovation in the maritime and shipbuilding industries merit fair support
The shipbuilding industry is already innovating in preparation for the environmental, trade and military challenges of tomorrow. But to fully succeed, European research support programmes must set greater store by the maritime industries today. The research and innovation ambitions of the French shipbuilding industry – already apparent in the new organisation of the maritime industrial sector – must be matched at European level, across the four strategic innovation priorities: smart vessels, green vessels, smart shipyards and blue growth. The maritime industrial sector has set up a dedicated Research and Innovation Council (CORIMER) for the purposes of more effectively organising project leaders’ applications and funding windows’ priorities, whether national or European, both in the civil (Horizon 2020) and military (European Defence Fund) spheres alike.
4/ A training and employment policy that meets the sector’s expectations
France’s shipbuilding industry needs to create 10,000 jobs over the next 10 years – and yet businesses in the sector are currently facing recruitment struggles. In terms of the industry’s growth then, employment is not only the main driver but also the main barrier. In this context, the posting of workers must be an option for businesses to be able to fulfil their expanding orderbooks – otherwise production will have to be relocated outside France’s borders. This situation, which has drawn criticism from businesses and the public authorities alike, lays bare the training shortfalls in the critical specialist trades (including boilermakers, mechanics, welders and pipefitters) Europe-wide. In the same way as the French State, the European Union must spell out a clear training ambition and solutions to the skills gaps facing manufacturers, so as to foster the sector’s growth and boost the appeal of these professions.
The new Parliament, which can co-legislate on most subjects coming under the European Union’s remit, together with the forthcoming new Commission, are urged to heed these ambitions that we are upholding directly or indirectly, particularly through EUROYARDS and SEA EUROPE – the European association for shipyards and maritime equipment manufacturers.