New EBI Secretary-General sets more activist course

By Robert Wielaard

BRUSSELS _ In Brussels’ pool of 30,000 lobbyists, the European Boating Industry is a minnow that has long curated a relatively low profile in engaging with the EU. But change is afoot at the EBI which tracks regulatory and other issues for a sector of 32,000 companies employing 280,000 people.

Wiping away the cobwebs is Philip Easthill who became EBI’s new Secretary General last September. He is making the EBI a more activist agent for Europe’s recreational boating sector, notably in the bruised EU-US trade relationship and pushing for EU-US product conformity talks to ensure goods placed on the market are safe and legally sound .

Easthill began by overhauling the EBI website and communications with the industry and public. Until recently an uninformative tool, the website now packs useful information about Europe’s recreational boating industry and details of regulatory issues important to boatbuilders, engine and equipment makers, trade and service providers from Arctic circle to the Med.

EBI Secretary General Philip Easthill

“We try to be more out there,” Easthill told this newsletter in a recent interview.

Europe’s boating industry is overwhelmingly (97%) made up of small and medium-sized enterprises. On its own, the boatbuilding sector consists of 3,600 companies employing over 82,000 people.

“The industry has seen significant changes in recent years,” says Easthill. “It has grown which has improved its general mood. Yet, key challenges remain.”
Easthill came to EBI after 4 years of consultancy and public affairs work in Brussels. His to-do list includes:

— a coherent EU-wide approach to dismantle end-of-life boats
— more funding for nautical tourism
— a harmonization of skipper qualifications
— preparing a review of the Recreational Craft Directive, last updated in 2013, that sets out minimum technical, safety and environmental standards for the trade of boats of up to 24m, personal watercraft, marine engines and components, and
— stepping up cooperation with the recreational fishing sector whose interests overlap those of the EBI, such as the environment, regional development and the manufacture of recreational craft.

“Together we are stronger,” says Easthill. Possibly his most pressing priority is nudging the EU to negotiate an end to US steel and aluminum tariffs, imposed in 2018 that have triggered retaliatory EU tariffs.

“We spend much time lobbying against tariffs and trade in general,” says Easthill. The US tariffs – 25% and 10% on steel and aluminum imports, respectively – have exacted a heavy toll. “For some European importers and dealers these tariffs have led to revenue losses of up to 80%,” he says.