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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship
Speech: High-level meeting to launch the LeaderSHIP 2020 strategy
High-level meeting / Brussels
20 February 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is little more than a year since I talked to ministers in the Competitiveness Council about the need for a strategy to relaunch the shipbuilding industry.
Having listened to industry and trade-union representatives, I am convinced of the need for joint action to tackle the industry’s various problems. This view is shared and supported by Member States.
The LeaderSHIP 2020 strategy we are presenting today is the fruit of wide-ranging cooperation between all stakeholders in the industry.
We have involved the industrial maritime technology sectors and their end users, such as offshore wind energy suppliers, ship-owners and the dredging industry.
We have also extended cooperation to the regions, which are taking part directly for the first time.
The shipbuilding industry employees half a million people in Europe and uses advanced technology for specialised design and production.
Europe cannot allow its industries to go elsewhere. This is a strategic, central point in terms of tackling the growth and jobs crisis.
That is why the Commission is working to counter and reverse the process of industrial decline, which the Union is responding to through clear political will.
The new European industrial policy – approved last October – has laid the foundations for the reindustrialisation of Europe. Shipbuilding is a key element of that strategy. The maritime and shipbuilding industries have a future here in Europe.
The transition to ‘greener’ vessels and renewable marine energy provides major new opportunities.
The ‘Limassol Declaration’ signed by President Barroso and European ministers last October underlines the vast potential for growth and jobs offered in the maritime industries, as part of the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.
To fulfil that potential, the shipbuilding and maritime engineering industries must focus more on innovation in order to improve environmental performance and diversify into emerging sectors.
The time has come for a major alliance between all stakeholders involved in the design, construction, maintenance and repair of all types of vessels and most offshore structures.
Our aim is specifically to relaunch an industry that experienced its sixth consecutive year of global crisis in 2012.
Before the crisis started, excess orders led to enormous overcapacity – in particular for cargo vessels. The major losses suffered by ship-owners and bankers forced down the price of vessels and made things worse for the shipbuilding industry.
We need to build on specialised high-tech market segments, where overcapacity is less of a problem.
Although our competitors, particularly in Asia, have the advantage of financial support (which is difficult to imagine in Europe), the resilience shown by European companies is encouraging.
One example is cruise ships, for which major orders are being placed, including outside Europe. The production of specialised vessels, such as dredgers, research vessels and ice breakers is another example.
Not to mention Europe’s strength in design, maritime engineering and equipment.
The LeaderSHIP 2020 strategy
Allow me now to outline the main elements of the LeaderSHIP 2020 action plan we are presenting today.
Firstly – although the industry has been through painful restructuring – growth is also being slowed in many companies by the shortage of qualified staff.
If it wishes to make the most of new opportunities in emerging markets, the industry must focus on innovation, for example renewable marine energy. Skills are more important than in the past. Therefore, training also needs to be updated.
A real joint strategy is lacking, however. We need to ensure that restructuring – when it is inevitable – paves the way for long-term competitiveness and sustainability.
The second point concerns the development of a strong base for research, development and innovation. Much remains to be done in terms of improving the energy efficiency and safety of transport vessels.
I am therefore pleased that the industry intends to set up a public private partnership in order to meet both environmental and economic needs. It is important in that context to support new market segments, such as offshore wind and marine energy.
We are open to the idea of tapping into these new markets through public private partnerships. However, at the same time, it is important for the maritime technology industry to play an active role.
The third issue relates to applying research and development results in industry. This requires proper support measures. State aid for innovation has proved to be an effective instrument in the context of aid to shipbuilding.
The current revision of the state aid guidelines should therefore pay due attention to shipbuilding. This is something I will discuss with my colleague, Commissioner Almunia.
The final, sensitive, point concerns access to private and public financing.
Building ships takes time and money. However, many European banks have stopped financing the industry. The problem can only be solved by reintroducing favourable long-term conditions on the capital markets.
In the meantime, however, it is vital to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and make better use of this new instrument. I have been personally involved in the formulation of the EIB’s new policy for financing transport, which will take greater account of the needs of European shipbuilding.
The new generation of the Structural Funds can also provide support to innovation, research and specialisation, including smart regional specialisation. Cross-border and regional projects are key to creating a critical mass.
I invite the Member States and the regions to implement the recommendations and take greater account of the maritime industries when allocating the Structural Funds for the 2014-2020 period.
LeaderSHIP 2015, launched by Commissioner Likanen, proved to be a success.
However, in recent years, new challenges and opportunities have arisen. I am sure that LeaderSHIP 2020 will provide effective ways of improving competitiveness and sustainability in the shipbuilding industry.
In May, I will ask ministers to offer fresh and renewed support to this initiative.
You can rest assured that I and the whole Commission will remain committed in that regard.
I would once again like to thank you for your contributions and to congratulate you, in particular SEA Europe, for the excellent work done so far.