EU shipping must remain competitive, say flag states

For all the importance of curbing emissions and other environmental regulations, the European Union must be careful that its shipping industry remains competitive. That was the message of Malta, Greece and Cyprus after a tripartite ministerial meeting this week brought together the three top flag states in Europe

Competitiveness remains top of the agenda for EU trio. Europe must balance priorities of the environment and competitiveness if it is to preserve shipping industry, say Malta, Greece and Cyprus, representing 60% of EU-flagged tonnage.

Shipping ministers for Malta, Greece and Cyprus underlined the importance of remaining competitive at the end of the latest in a series of regular tripartite meetings.

COMPETITIVENESS should be a major concern for European shipping, according to the three leading flag states in the European Union.

Shipping ministers for Malta, Greece and Cyprus underlined the importance of remaining competitive at the end of the latest in a series of regular tripartite meetings that have helped co-ordinate the three countries in their maritime policies in recent years.

Implicit in their remarks was a shared view that Brussels has put greater emphasis on the environmental and technological aspects of the industry, and internal community market factors, than ensuring that the EU’s ocean-going shipping industry can compete at a global level.

The three countries account for close to 60% of EU-registered shipping capacity.

“We are seeing that this industry is achieving incredible results both locally, at the EU level, and on an international level, thus it is imperative that we continue to find ways to not only maintain these results, but build upon them,” said Malta’s transport minister Ian Borg.

He said that the issue of competitiveness was “more to remain competitive with the rest of the world than internally”.

“We do have sometimes different positions at EU level and at international fora, but that is our job,” said Mr Borg.

Natasa Pilides, who as deputy shipping minister in Cyprus is the first encumbered of the island’s newly created cabinet post for the industry, said that it was important to keep a balance between remaining competitive in the shipping industry with being environmentally sustainable and socially responsible.

“It is very important to preserve the competitiveness of European shipping and ensure that European shipping stays relevant on a global scale,” she said.

According to Ms Pilides, the European Commission had made “great leaps in its sensitivity towards the maritime industry and its issues. But more could be done”.

Greece’s deputy minister for maritime affairs, Nektarios Santorinios, also said that the priorities for European maritime policy should be “competitiveness, along with the environment”.

He said, however, that it was “a difficult equation, how to align those things”.

The tripartite meeting was held in Valletta at the invitation of Greek shipowner George Prokopiou. It took place on the sidelines of the Malta Maritime Summit where the balance of EU policy towards shipping also came under scrutiny.

“We need to focus on long-term competitiveness in the shipping industry to avoid flagging-out and moving outside Europe,” Mr Santorinios told delegates. “This is why I believe tonnage taxes have to be preserved and we must focus more on preserving industry knowledge.”

Delegates were told of some positive progress in maritime policies following the so-called Valletta Declaration on blue growth during Malta’s presidency of the European Council in 2017.

“A number of things have improved and gained ground,” said Anna Maria Darmanin, secretary-general of the European Tug Owners’ Association. “But competitiveness is one aspect of the Valletta Declaration where we really have to work harder. If you ask industry if they have seen anything in the past two years coming from EU institutions in this respect, they will say nothing.”

She said shipping “is going out of Europe because it is easier to be out of Europe” than operating in Europe. “For years we in Europe have been trying to be first in class in everything but you cannot be and the industry needs to be profitable,” she said.

Fotis Karamitsos, who last year ended a 36-year career with the EC and was for several years one of the key figures in Brussels for maritime policy, sounded his own warning.

“We lost shipbuilding to the Far East,” he said. “We killed shipbuilding by taking the orthodox approach to competition and unfortunately we have been taking towards shipping today. We have to be very careful not to kill it too.”

Member states were not primarily competing among themselves, he said, but with the rest of the world.


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