EU Commission blows opportunity to link State aid to shipping jobs and training for community seafarers

14 Oct 2013

Following a recent decision by the Commission, the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) slammed the European Union for missing a golden opportunity to link state aid for the shipping industry to the creation of jobs and the improvement of training for Community seafarers. For seafarers’ unions, this is a missed opportunity to build on the success of positive measures for European shipping and ensure jobs growth for Europeans.

The ETF wishes to recall that the original intentions of State Aid Guidelines (SAG) for maritime transport were to encourage the (re)flagging to Members States registers and to keep the maritime know-how in Europe by enhancing and protecting the employment for European seafarers. Ironically enough, the Commission itself recognised in a Communication (COM (2009) 8 final on the strategic goals and recommendations for the EU maritime transport policies until 2018) the need to improve the guidelines and examine the “feasibility of a reinforced link between the employment for European seafarers and the aid”. And yet, despite these reassurances, it is regrettable to see that the Commission favoured the “do noting” option by leaving the EU maritime SAG unchanged. “This is as a body blow for the industry which will allow shipping companies to continue to exploit the tonnage tax for their own purposes while putting little or nothing back” said Philippe Alfonso, ETF Political Secretary responsible for Maritime Transport, stressing that “too many Community seafarers were working on a permanent basis on-board EU-flagged vessels trading between EU ports”.

However, after 4 years of gathering proof from industry and ETF affiliated unions, there is overwhelming evidence that the existing state aid regime, both in the form of fiscal incentives – such as the tonnage tax and labour cost subsidies and reduction of wage taxes for instance – has had too little impact on training and employment of European nationals. Against this background, there is a strong case for closing loopholes in the way such fiscal incentives are utilised. That is why the ETF repeatedly called on the Commission to take advantage of the 2011 review of SAG for allowing the granting of subsidies on condition that aid recipients demonstrate EU taxpayers’ money is resulting in job opportunities for EU nationals, for both ratings and officers, and more training, including more cadet berths.

It is also very disappointing to see that the SAG review deliberately ignored a long-lasting demand from the ETF, i.e. to reflect on who should be characterised properly as a “bona fide” Community seafarer, as the current definition of “Community seafarers” used by the European Commission – all seafarers liable to taxation and/or social security contributions in a Member State – is unacceptable and its legal validity is dubious. The ETF will keep on campaigning against the current definition whose application in a national context has led to unacceptable abuses. “Whilst it is worth noting that DG Competition has at least endorsed the concept of state aid to maritime transport, it is highly disappointing that they did not deem it necessary to tighten the state aid guidelines in respect of defining European seafarers, when what is really needed is a definition which clearly states that only nationals residing on a permanent basis in a particular Member State should be regarded as Community seafarers”, said Philippe Alfonso.

The ETF remains more determined than ever to ensure that its legitimate claims are heard and will publicly question the Commissioner for competition, Joaquín Almunia, to make him understand that it is not an unreasonable requirement to insist that tax incentives should generate jobs growth for European citizens, otherwise the skills basis in Europe, upon which the European maritime cluster depends, will suffer.

For more information, please contact:
Philippe Alfonso, ETF Political Secretary for Maritime Transport,, +32(0)22854584, +32(0)496657915