The Dutch have a lot to learn from other Europeans’

When designing and implementing industrial policy for its maritime manufacturing industry (MMI), the Dutch government and politicians would do well to also look at similar developments in other European countries. These countries have realised much earlier that the MMI is of strategic importance, according to a report by the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS).

In every issue of SWZ|Maritime, SWZ|Maritime’s editor-in-chief Antoon Oosting writes an opinion piece under the heading “Markets” about the maritime industry or a particular sector within it. In the January 2024 issue, he discusses what the Netherlands can learn from other European countries now that it is developing industrial policy for its maritime manufacturing industry. Under the combative motto “No guts, no Dutch Glory!”, the Dutch government presented the MMI Sector Agenda at the end of October last year. After decades of being mostly ignored, except for a few limited subsidy schemes, shipbuilding is now the first sector in the Netherlands for which industrial policy is being developed again. Commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, the HCSS surveyed how seven European countries, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, and Sweden define and translate “strategic interests” for MMI into tailor-made industrial policies. According to the HCSS, the analysis provides a reference point for the policy instruments that the Dutch government could deploy as part of the MMI Sector Agenda.

Possible partners

The seven countries mentioned were chosen because, according to the report’s compilers, they are ‘to a greater or slightly lesser extent like-minded countries and thus potential partners for international cooperation’. Insight into their policies, according to the HCSS, can also form the basis for estimating the potential for international (government) cooperation. Incidentally, most of these countries do not have an industrial policy exclusively focused on the MMI, instead they mostly focus on the maritime sector as a whole.

By identifying strategies in the countries studied that are in line with our own objectives and priorities, our country can formulate a strategy based on existing (best) practices. For instance, in their international quick scan, the rapporteurs conclude that for the development of renewable energy and green shipping, the Netherlands should mainly look at the Norwegians and Swedes. According to the HCSS, these two countries lead the way with green initiatives, such as reducing emissions, application of hydrogen in shipping and offshore wind energy.

Feasible action plans

In the field of offshore infrastructure construction, a comparison with Germany, France, Spain, and Italy will help identify feasible action plans, according to the report. For research and development and education, the Dutch industry should look closely at the UK strategy. ‘With cutting-edge social initiatives, such as encouraging ethnic, gender and skills diversity within the workforce, UK policies can serve as inspiration for formulating a human capital agenda.’

According to the rapporteurs, the information they found can also serve as a useful basis for identifying key areas of potential coordination for the Netherlands and its European partners. They cite some examples. By aligning with the digitalisation ambitions of the UK and Germany and the French ‘paperless strategy’, the Netherlands can strengthen its administrative interoperability. For energy transition and greening shipping, joint research and technology projects can be entered into with all the countries mentioned, bilaterally or in (possibly ever-changing) coalitions of countries. According to the researchers, this not only contributes to strengthening the Dutch MMI, but will also help the government accelerate its approach to major societal challenges.

UK has comprehensive policy

Overall, the researchers find that the countries surveyed all have policies (in)directly targeting the maritime sector. Although varying from country to country, the breadth and, in several cases, depth of the measures is striking. In the rapporteurs’ view, this fact alone supports the initiative to develop a specific Sector Agenda in the Netherlands as well. It seems that certainly the example of the UK’s overall policy can serve as a mirror (especially for the government role) to achieve a better chain strategy and chain direction for the maritime sector.

An important question was also what the Dutch government can learn from the countries’ procurement practices. For green technologies and energy, initiatives in Norway and Sweden in particular should be looked at, states the HCSS. For port and ship electrification, France and Sweden are leading examples. For naval construction, the UK strategy is interesting because of its fleet size and cost transparency.

Financial instruments

It can be concluded from the survey that, like the Netherlands, all countries surveyed have Export Credit Agencies or similar instruments. Practically all countries with a maritime sector have introduced a tonnage regime. This is a separate tax regime for international shipping within corporate and income tax, where not the actual result, but the size and number of sailing days are important. These regimes vary slightly from country to country. The UK has recently introduced both an extended credit guarantee scheme and a more lenient tonnage regime, in a sign that the government wants to attract new investment in shipping.

Although, according to the HCSS, it is difficult to properly quantify the allocation of financial resources, the quick scan suggests that in several of the countries surveyed, the government is investing heavily in the maritime sector. This focuses on shipbuilding, port infrastructure, building skills, green technology, and renewable energy. The UK’s £ 4 billion investment in national shipbuilding and Germany’s integrated package of measures to strengthen the position of domestic shipyards, ports and waterways can serve as a benchmark for new Dutch policy.


Increasingly stringent environmental regulations

Regarding development of new laws and regulations, the researchers note that the maritime sector is facing increasingly stringent environmental regulations, partly initiated by the European Commission. Currently, France is the most advanced in terms of regulations to promote energy transition. In Norway, the Maritime Future Technologies Team helps government agencies keep abreast of technological developments beyond current regulatory frameworks. In the area of research and development, HCSS researchers note that research hubs for specific maritime topics/subsectors can encourage investment and foster cooperation and innovation. The National Clean Maritime Research Hub in the UK and the Maritime Robotics Centre in Sweden are useful examples. Furthermore, public-private partnerships play an important role in many governments’ maritime strategies. For example, MaRI-UK in the UK and the Norwegian Ocean Cluster attract both private and public funding to support their R&D projects.


Government involvement

In their quick scan, the researchers see the importance of involving various ministries and research institutes in the mission to develop the maritime industry. Germany can serve as an example, given the close involvement of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure in maritime initiatives. Besides interdisciplinary cooperation, the HCSS says the Dutch MMI should encourage information sharing with other countries and participation in EU-funded cooperation projects, as is already done well in France with projects such as SILENV and SONIC.

For education and training, the researchers find that close relationships between industry and education benefit curriculum development and the creation of specialised maritime programmes. This can be supported by initiatives such as the Apprenticeship Levy in the UK and the digitalisation of education in Spain. The physical proximity of businesses and education and knowledge institutions in strong regional clusters is central to the French concept of pôles de compétitivité (clusters to increase competitiveness).

Providing equal opportunities

To attract a broader skills base, the researchers say targeted efforts should be made to provide equal opportunities and promote careers in the maritime sector among diverse populations. The UK “People Like Me” project and the opening of so-called BTS maritime classes in France can inspire this, say the rapporteurs. The establishment of specialised maritime educational institutions, similar to the World Maritime University in Malmö, Sweden, can contribute to advanced education, research, and capacity-building programmes in maritime affairs. To strengthen the Netherlands’ international position as a maritime nation, the HCSS says the government could set up a special agency focused on international maritime affairs and trade, following the example of other countries such as Denmark. Such an organisation could help coordinate activities, create export opportunities, and support companies in developing their international position.
Examples include the UK’s Maritime Capability Campaign Office and Team Norway. France’s approach to strengthening the position of its ports at an international and European level can serve as an example of actively influencing international and European authorities to defend national interests and shape regulatory decisions and funding mechanisms.




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