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Commission prepares new strategy for European shipbuilding

The European Commission has adopted a strategy paper on the future of European shipbuilding policy, as well as a proposal for a Regulation establishing new rules on aid to shipbuilding.

The Commission aims to direct efforts into defending the European industry from anti-compe...
The European Commission has adopted a strategy paper on the future of European shipbuilding policy, as well as a proposal for a Regulation establishing new rules on aid to shipbuilding.

The Commission aims to direct efforts into defending the European industry from anti-competitive practices of third country shipbuilders and to help the industry increase its competitiveness by promoting research, development and innovation, and supporting closer industrial cooperation. The proposal concerning state aid would allow for contract-related state aid to be granted until the end of 2000. In addition, the Commission proposes that other forms of public support, including investment aid, restructuring aid and aid for research and development. The Commission is also prepared to allow aid for innovation, in certain circumstances, to cover risks related to technological challenges.

Structural change is necessary for the European shipbuilding industry if it is not to be swamped by competition from third countries. The Commission states that it is for the industry, first and foremost, to tackle its structural disadvantages in comparison to third country shipbuilders. However, given the importance of the shipbuilding sector to Europe's economic performance, the Commission has put forward its proposals.

Firstly, the existing state aids Directive in the shipbuilding field will expire at the end of 1997, but the global agreement on aids to shipbuilding, under the auspices of the OECD, will not have entered into force by then. Therefore the Commission wishes to ensure that there is no legal void between the two regimes.

Secondly, the Commission feels that the difficult market conditions prevailing in shipbuilding, such as depressed prices, over-capacity outside Europe, and unfair practices of some competitors, mean that European shipbuilders cannot be launched into global competition entirely unprotected. In the Commission's view, European shipbuilders will require supportive measures for a certain period, in order to reach the level of competitiveness of their main competitors in Japan and South Korea.

Shipbuilding is an industry which has bright prospects, requiring a wide range of technological skills, and is particularly suited to developments in the field of information technologies. The Commission has already promoted a number of initiatives which have helped to resurrect the European shipbuilding industry from the prevailing view of it as a "sunset industry".

In the research and development field, the Commission has targeted efforts towards improving the production process and the development of safe and efficient ships, including new and advanced designs for highly sophisticated ships and onboard systems. The Maritime systems of the future task force, set up in 1995, was designed to coordinate research efforts in the field. In its proposal for the Fifth Framework Programme, the Commission has included a key action on Marine technologies, which will continue the work started by the task force, and should ensure that developments in the field of information and communication technologies are fully applied to shipbuilding.

Source: European Commission, Service du Porte-parole

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