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Brussels, 11 th September 2009

Adapting the policies for maritime industries and their employment to the current economic downturn

The Vice-President of the European Commission Günter Verheugen has met today at Bremerhaven with high representatives from Member States, the shipbuilding and marine equipment industry and trade unions to discuss the difficult situation of maritime industry in Europe and to revisit the policy framework of the LeaderSHIP 2015 agenda in light of the current crisis.

The discussions confirmed the particularly difficult situation of the shipbuilding and marine equipment industry in Europe. It is confronted with an unprecedented global collapse in demand for new ships, down by more than 90%. New orders are needed soon if a major disruption in the sector with significant job losses is to be avoided. Already today, many ship yards and equipment suppliers are increasingly forced to resort to short-time work and announce or execute lay-offs (approx 15.000 workers affected in the EU). At least five yards have already filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors, while the largest Danish yard will close down, affecting more than 5.800 workers altogether.

Participants confirmed that the long-term orientations of the policy framework established under the LeaderSHIP 2015 process remain valid with their clear focus on a highly research based, innovative industry producing safe and environmentally friendly ships that can successfully compete globally if a level playing field and sufficient IPR protection is ensured. However, they also agreed that in light of the current crisis, additional measures that could alleviate the short-term pressure should be taken in order to ensure a critical mass of this strategic industry sector.

The participants stressed the need for a level-playing field both within the EU and at global level. They voiced their strong concerns about the continuous lack of a global level playing field for the maritime sector and called on the Commission to take all possible action to counter a global subsidy race, protectionism measures and unfair pricing practices. All possible tools should be used, including ongoing international negotiations with South Korea and China. The Commission was also asked to strengthen its efforts to globally protect innovation and IPR in the shipbuilding sector.

With a view to generating new demand for safer and less polluting ships, participants invited the Commission to explore with possible partners, including the EIB, the possibility of a European scheme and to support Member States in sharing best practices on how demand for new ships or retro-fitting of new technologies could be stimulated, taking into account affordability and cost-efficiency. As access to finance is getting increasingly difficult for operators in the sector, the Commission is also called upon to analyse how access to finance for yards, ship-owners and marine equipment suppliers could be improved at European or national level, focussing on full exploitation of existing schemes such as export guarantees, crisis response programmes etc.

To increase the long-term competitiveness of European shipbuilding, participants asked the Commission to examine whether and how a new CleanSHIP initiative could be envisaged aiming at very low or even zero emission ships for which significant break through research is still needed. It would need to be based on a public private partnership with industry. In addition to this, the Commission could examine how regulatory provisions and financial incentives from Member States would stimulate an early introduction of innovations into the shipbuilding market.

Finally, the participants underlined the need to proactively take all measures required to maintain quality jobs and high levels of employment in the shipbuilding sector thus ensuring the availability of skilled staff also for future developments and market opportunities. All existing opportunities to avoid lay-offs must be fully exploited.

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