SEA Europe open letter to Ursula von der Leyen

On 29 April 2021 SEA Europe sent an open letter to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, calling for immediate action to protect the European shipbuilding industry from unfair subsidised competition from outside the EU.

The letter was also signed by the presidents of major European shipyards particularly affected by this subsidised competition.

The document is highly critical of past actions of the European Commission (EC). Its authors recall unfulfilled promises from 1988, when the EC promised to take steps to protect the shipbuilding industry in Europe from subsidised competition, but did nothing in this regard for over 30 years. They also recall that in 1998 the EC unilaterally made all aid to the shipbuilding industry in Europe virtually impossible, without negotiating similar solutions with our global competitors. It also mentions other unsuccessful ventures by the European Commission, with the result that the EU’s share of world shipbuilding has fallen from 45% in the 1980s to 5% today and risks falling further.

The letter calls on the President and the Vice-Presidents of the EC to take immediate action to protect the European shipbuilding industry from unfair Asian competition.

The content of the open letter will be published in the European media.

We asked the Director of the Association of Polish Maritime IndustriesFORUM OKRĘTOWE – , Ireneusz Karaśkiewicz, for a comment:

What is the reason for this dramatic step – an open letter is probably the last resort?

– It is an unprecedented step. It stems from the shaken belief that the long and patient dialogue “behind closed doors” with the European Commission representatives will bring the desired results. I myself have taken part in many such meetings, during which we explained to EC officials the threats to the shipbuilding industry in Europe caused by unfair – let’s put it bluntly – Chinese competition. The result of these meetings has been less than modest. The published White Paper and the expected unsatisfactory horizontal solutions that the EC intends to implement for the shipbuilding industry have forced SEA Europe to put political pressure on the EC to take action to protect the shipbuilding industry. There is a growing criticism of the EC by industry circles in Brussels for not doing enough to protect manufacturing in Europe.

What are the next steps?

– SEA Europe is seeking political support from all quarters. Publicising the issue is particularly important in the context of the upcoming European Council discussion on the EC’s proposals for horizontal tools against foreign subsidised competition, contained in the White Paper. These proposals are expected to be published on 5 May, after which they will be discussed in the European Parliament and the European Council. Any political support for SEA Europe’s proposals in these two bodies will be crucial for our shipbuilding industry. Let’s be brutally honest – this is the to be or not to be of the shipbuilding industry in Europe.

And is it not already the proverbial ‘mustard after dinner’? COVID-19 has hit the European shipbuilding industry very hard, and is that not the main problem?

– Let me just quote the data in the chart below. As you can see, European shipowners – unlike others – place only 5% of their orders for new ships in European yards and 95% in Asian yards. I think that the figures presented here require no further comment. It is enough to change some regulations to bring shipbuilding, or at least a significant part of it, back to Europe.

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