It ought to be stated from the outset, that the concept of
tonnage growth has always enjoyed universal interest due to its
direct correlation to higher levels of competitiveness and
It is therefore unsurprising that during the 2015 European
Shipping Week Conference in Brussels, European Transport
Commissioner Violeta Bulc affirmed her commitment towards ensuring
that the European flag remains attractive and of a high
quality1.This is a stance which has been maintained, and
further compounded by a later statement in 2016, wherein
Commissioner Bulc expressed the European Commission's position
against changing the existing guidelines relating to the taxation
of shipping activities2. Yet, when pressed with
questions regarding the Commission's role in the context of
tonnage growth in January 20173, Commissioner Bulc
considered this topic to be irrelevant for the Commission.
According to Bulc, flag competitiveness depends on fiscal measures
and administrative efficiency; both of which fall under the
competence of national governments. In light of this, Bulc added
that there was little to be done by the European Commission other
than offering enabling measures and technical support.
The sentiment of Bulc's latter statement seems to contradict
that expounded by the European Commission since time immemorial, as
evidenced by former Commissioner Stanley Clinton Davis' 1987
speech at the Institut Mediterraneen des Transports Maritimes
in Marseille, wherein the dangers of flagging out, and its
consequences on the Community fleet, were first outlined. A steady
growth in tonnage leads to a rise in demand for European shipping
service providers; thus creating further employment opportunities
to be taken advantage of by a European workforce. This will
inevitably stimulate European expertise in the sector, which is
crucial if the European Union desires to maintain a telling
presence in international shipping circles. Larger tonnage will
effectively lead to a larger European presence in such fora as the
International Maritime Organisation (IMO). This will not
only ensure the safeguarding of European interests, but also allow
for a better say when negotiating international conventions and
policies. A larger European fleet will in turn ensure greater
control over the adherence to any such instrument by European
flagged vessels in Europe and beyond.
In light of the aforementioned, it seems clear that European
tonnage should in fact be of serious concern to the
European Commission; especially in the context of the Union's
efforts to effectively implement its environmental policies and
maintain international shipping standards across the board.
Co-author: Luke Hili
1 Violeta Bulc, 'Full steam ahead: Europe needs a
top-quality shipping sector that can compete internationally',
European Commission – Speech, 04/03/2015
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