No Mercy for Shipyards

The subsidies previously granted to the Gdynia and Szczecin shipyards were recently acknowledged to be illegal by the EU.

The financial aid was originally designed to help the yards stand alone rather than to prop them up, a requirement that was not fulfilled. As a result, the government subsidies that kept the yards in business since 2002, amounting to 3.3 billion euros, are now to be repaid to the EU. The exact amount of the recoup is still to be calculated. However, since joining the EU, Poland has been granted 2.147 billion euros for the two shipyards.

In order to give back the public aid the state has committed to restructuring the yards and to offering the companies for sale. The plan is to sell the restructured yards through an open tender by May 2009, ideally to one buyer. The Gdynia Shipyard and New Szczecin Shipyard are to be closed and the staff made redundant. As per the EU requirements, there are to be no restrictions to the tender and the new entities can just as well move away from the shipbuilding industry. The sale is to allow the state to recover the money and repay the subsidies so that the new yards will no longer be indebted and should be capable of functioning effectively within the new organisations.

What has caused much distress is that the new owners will not be required to employ the current staff, and the European Commission gives no guarantees in this respect. Still, the EC is ready to support the potentially dismissed employees with the help of European funds, particularly the European Globalization Adjustment Fund and European Social Fund. The issue is being heavily discussed as some 60,000 jobs are at risk. The next shipyard on the EU list is the one in Gdansk and the decision on its future is expected shortly. With the Baltic shipyards being the cradle of Solidarity, the situation is especially sensitive, both socially and politically.

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