Why the maritime sector should emphasize its strategic interests

Relationship with 'The Hague' needs an update


Pieter Walraven contributed in Maritiem Nederland with an op-ed on the positioning of the Dutch maritime sector. He elaborates on three elements that could improve the strategic relationship the sector has with Dutch policy makers.

  1. Emphasizing the strategic importance of the maritime sector.

The deteriorating relationship between business and politics has been a hot topic this year. In the recently presented party programmes for the upcoming elections, it becomes abundantly clear that the tone of voice in the industry policy paragraphs has changed drastically.

This warning signal should prompt sectors to demonstrate their social relevance in a different way. It is no longer sufficient for interest groups to rely on facts and figures concerning employment and their GDP-contribution alone. More than ever, it is key to organize a social dialogue with stakeholders. For the maritime sector this is challenging: the sector is not as visible as, for instance, the hospitality industry or public transport.

For instance, a great deal of work has been done in sustainability. Not only through the Maritime, Inland Waterways and Ports Green Deal of June 2019, but also in concrete projects. For example the development of the Porthos project, which might evolve into a landmark project. Or take the development of a ‘hydrogen hub’ mentioned in several party manifesto’s. This is clearly an opportunity for the port as a mainport and for the maritime sector as a strategic sector. What politicians often do not realize is the need for a strong maritime sector to be able to realize the political ambitions.

The importance of social dialogue goes beyond a commitment to sustainability. What does a strong maritime cluster mean for society? How many jobs are linked to it, and which other sectors benefit from it?

  1. Need for a new style of industrial policy.

A lack of government industry policy coordination became painfully clear during the ‘Oasis of the Seas’ case. An order for a massive maintenance assignment on this vessel ended in a huge fine from the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. Due to a lack of coordination between government departments the issue painfully lasted for years before eventually sorted out in court.

What is striking, however, is that the Dutch government seems to re-introduce industrial policy. This policy was left by the ministry for Economic Affairs in the late 90’s. It appears to realize that market failure and geopolitical competition require a more assertive approach. The maritime sector should respond to this by initiating more interdepartmental connections themselves. This might enable more coordination to secure the position of the maritime sector.

  1. Rebuilding the relationship between government and industry.

The deteriorating relationship between government and industry is currently unmistakable. A policy-review by the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW) urges companies to make their social relevance more visible to the public and called for more transparency and a structural dialogue between business, politics, and society. More and more this dialogue showed a deteriorating level of mutual understanding. Most public affairs directors believe politicians, in particular MPs, lack understanding and awareness of the impact of certain policies on companies, a recent survey showed.

In Amsterdam this became even more visible. In the plans for the relocation of the Cruise Terminal on the IJ and the debates concerning a bridge across the IJ-river, the interests of the maritime sector are blatantly overlooked. What does not help is that few politicians have connections with the maritime sector or any business background whatsoever. This means interest groups will have to invest more than ever in relationships with the newly elected politicians. This starts with developing a level of mutual understanding.

This article appeared on the website of Maritiem Nederland.

"Interest groups will have to invest more than ever in relationships with newly elected politicians"

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