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Environnements portuaires

Anne-Lise Piétri-Lévy
John Barzman
Éric Barré

Deuxième partie. Espaces, Aménagements, Régulations

The Maritime City Network

A good practice example for clusters and networking in Europe

Karsten Seidel

Texte intégral

1. Introduction to principles of networking

1Since 1991 European Union politics have given the maritime economy a special role as a pilot sector within the framework of a ‘new’ industrial policy concept. This is partly due to the crisis situation and the search for new directions, but also because of the way structural change traditionally affects the lives of those people working in the industry. Conventional structural policies (very often through direct intervention) have in many ways merely prolonged the process of dying or ex-post adaptation, without seeking new paths for reorientation. Although shipbuilding, offshore industries, ports and shipping count as sectors of strategic importance, despite substantial political efforts, no lasting common method of improving their position appears to be forthcoming. Nevertheless, in Europe the political conditions exist which could support greater dialogue and be developed in the direction of defined activities.

2Both in structural and industrial European policy, strong support was given to systematically develop networks. These newer concepts cite their goal to be to strengthen the competitiveness of the (maritime) economy, often seen in a regional context. The development of competitive advantages as opposed to other branches is defined in the first instance through productivity. Productivity is achieved in companies. The improvement of the productive basis is a key requirement for building competitiveness. Equally, the productive basis is heavily influenced by the business environment and its general conditions. The operational framework of the economy is consequently the focus of political action on competitiveness.

3Companies are linked together in so-called ‘clusters’, as branches interwoven vertically and horizontally. The dynamics of how this cluster develops as a quantity influenced by the surrounding business environment plays a greater role in recent works on the definition of competitiveness than previous criteria like factor costs and price advantages.

4Business co-operation in networks represents a consciously strategic evolution of clusters on a sound material basis, i. e. based on monetary exchange processes. A process which is more strongly oriented towards the formation of general policy framework conditions defines the radius of network activities.

5As well as investigating concrete political concepts and their effects, certain questions of overriding importance need to be examined:

  • Do industrial policy concepts and networks represent an alternative to deregulation measures?

  • Are the political offers from Brussels sufficiently elaborated and institutionally underpinned to be effective in the long run?

  • Are networks per se already an enrichment of the business environment?

  • Do networks on the basis of clusters increase effectiveness and competitiveness?

  • How should they be formed and what should they look like in order to have a long-term effect on industrial policy.

2. Characterising a network

6In a network, a complex process of business and personal relations takes place. Six functional parameters for describing networks have been developed as a result of studying background material. Recent research has developed two patterns:

  • The theory of systemic competitiveness forms the basis for proposals, which enable the creation of competitiveness. In other words, where and how to intervene best. The analyses of Grabher et al. are particularly informative about network structures (governance) and the limitations or risks of networks.

  • The “Network Society” still sounds a bit visionary, but becomes reality. It operates in an economy globalising at high speed. It is innovation-driven and moves from the former pattern of “market economies” with a relatively strong public sector (and respective interventions) into a ‘lead and guide” approach, advocating the setting of priorities, targeting specific industries, and allocating scarce capital resources. More and more, governments will strive to:

  • Provide a stable and predictable (economic) environment.

  • Provide effective institutions

  • Encourage innovation and upgrading.

  • Cluster information and upgrading activity

  • Create and communicate an economic vision.

7Much of this is found in European policies. And one of the instruments for concertation, for finding common ground, for reaching agreements, are networks.

Functional parameters for a dialogue-oriented network


Link with institutional system

Common goal

Complex environment

Social logics functioning

Strategic capacity

8In describing the new paradigm of industry policy, the definition of ‘network’ is broadened by the adverb ‘dialogue-orientated’. However, a ‘dialogue-oriented network’ is no mathematically precise definition, which would contradict the necessarily dynamic nature of networks. The six parameters are mutually dependent, interwoven and are qualitative amounts, influenced by external factors, with which networks can be analysed.

9Self-organisation and strategic capacity make up the two core points of this network paradigm, which particularly affects the application of a reciprocal - i. e. balanced - social functional logic. If the network participants can come to a consensus and have sufficient mutual trust, then a form of organisation can be developed which reflects the amount of commitment wanted by the participants. This can range from ad-hoc sessions to the establishment of associations with fully empowered secretariats. In this respect it is important that consensus over the degree of institutionalisation should be sought. Equity is both a prerequisite and a benchmark of social interaction amongst network actors. To reach equity, two principles must be respected and applied by the actors: confidence and reciprocity. A network can only perform very limited functions without mutual exchange.

10Strategic capacity as a second cornerstone is the collective interest, expressed over and above the common goal, in intending to work on a long-term and future-oriented basis. To a certain extent this requires its own form of organisation. The scope of the challenge of a network can be understood on two levels through the complex environment. These are, on the one hand, insufficient information and the use of networks as a means of gaining influence, and on the other hand the implementation of this challenge through the network participants. The connection with the institutional, or sovereign system can be brought about by involving public players in private commercial networks, or through an institutional relationship which fits the relevant network goal.

11Power does not form a network parameter, but exists and is exerted in all forms of human communication. Here, it is understood as the command on sufficient resources both for the analysis and follow-up of a given situation and for the implementation of the goals and requirements developed in the network. But unlike in traditional politics, power in networks will no longer be able to be wielded hierarchically but within a system, i. e. horizontally. This requires both the externally and internally effective network capability of participants. Special communication skills are demanded by those persons representing networks which must enclose in particular a truly “balanced network character” of the representative of a network. They must inaugurate (or stand for) a culture of choosing. These persons are also described as a democratic elite. They must disseminate the activity of the network they represent as a solution to a problem and should contribute to a larger, common aim, not only pursue a self-interest.

3. Examples for clusters and networks

12The following six examples are taken from different spheres or activities. They are not connected with each other. They stand in their own right as different, parallel approaches and represent thus an overview on networks in general. This section of the paper will be left - on purpose - without conclusions, but in the following chapter some thoughts on appreciating a network are put forward.

3.1. Motor Sports Valley, U.K.

13I am quoting an example of the non-maritime world to show that the network experience is not limited to one sector only and to underline a clear regional dimension. It is a rather interesting regional example on the economic, “real life” background as a cluster as described by Michael E. Porter. In the south-east of England around London, from Oxford in the West to Kent and Surrey in the South and to Cambridgeshire in the North stretches the "Motor Sports Valley”. Seven of the eleven Formula-1 teams develop and build their high-tech vehicles here. They are complemented by hundreds of small and medium sized companies working in design, foundry, electrics, engine construction, etc. Although all of the major teams are in tough competition, they not only share one supply industry, but also staff. Employees rotate in average every four years from one company to the other, thus transporting and transferring skills and technology form one competitor to the other. This paradox of well kept secrets and economies of scale works to the benefit of all. A very special case of economic intelligence.

3.2. The maritime industrial policy of the EU

14The maritime industrial policy of the Commission created together with large industrial and political support between 1992 and 1998 a series of conferences, workshops and publication. One institutional expression of this policy of the Commission is the Maritime Industries Forum (MIF), which was born at the beginning of a Commission process. Other organisations are the Alliance of Maritime Regional Interests in Europe (AMRIE), with a stronger regional bent, and the Task Force “Maritime Systems of the Future”, co-ordinating maritime R&D efforts. They are the institutional counterparts to two main strands of maritime industrial policy, which concentrates on R&D questions and in a related development is devoted to issues of regional structural policy. Since 1999, the R&D Task Force is no longer existing, it was dissolved as some of its lobbying for additional research funding in the 5th framework programme became effective. The MIF is undergoing a process of reform, which is shifting towards a lighter organisational structure opening itself in limited thematic groups to ad-hoc issues.

15The analysis of these three organisations, seen as the institutional set-up of ‘new’European maritime industrial policy, together with the new industrial policy paradigm of dialogue-oriented networks, paints a picture of a ‘top-down’(European Commission-controlled) development, which nevertheless conceals some promising approaches for strengthening competitiveness in the maritime industry. Exactly this externally driven political approach has hampered for a long time the effectiveness of MIF and AMRIE. Now, in a period of re-orientation and reduced political and financial support, these two organisations are to a stronger extent asked to find their own way.

16Some experience can be gained from analysing these wide-ranging activities, viewed as an industrial policy offering from Brussels for creating regional initiatives insofar as the form of organisation, the direction of content, barriers etc. are concerned. After allowing for regional procedural conditions and peculiarities this experience can be used to shape a regional network procedure. Despite some partial success with the ‘new’ maritime industrial policy, described here as a trial network policy, no different industrial policy paradigm can be discerned as yet. Nevertheless, some steps towards it have been taken. In the context of the continuing process of deregulation, European policy has no alternative but to adopt a network policy. Now that intervention instruments (R&D and regional policies) and an institutional environment (e. g. with MIF, AMRIE and the Task Force) are available, industry is being called upon to network itself increasingly within the framework of this political process and - where possible - to influence how the basic conditions of its business environment are laid down.

17The scant theoretical basis of this ‘new’ industrial policy makes it doubtful whether the Commission realises that there is no going back on this path. The Commission has used the maritime economy more as a guinea pig than a prototype. The institutional approaches to date are not yet sufficiently established and accepted to be able to take over a leading role. However, in the absence of a recognisable interim solution, the entire network process might be either jeopardised or regain strength. The answers are still open, but indications show that continuity is possible.

3.3. Regional Port Co-operation in Finland

18In south-western Finland, the five ports of Pori, Rauma, Uusikaupunki, Naantali and Turku with a total cargo volume of 18 million tonnes p.a. were asked by the Governor of that province to come together under the moderation of Turku University Maritime Training Centre. Early attempts were made in autumn 1992, but turned down by one of the cities. First negotiations started in March 1994 and have developed with the support of the national ministry of transport. Following a joint stand of the ports on a presentation in London in April 1995 and another during the Leipzig fair in April 1996, the cooperation was made official in August 1996. Co-operation includes further issues like joint training and a common purchase and spare parts policy. This four-year process was imperative for building up confidence between the key players. The benefits are described as follows:

  • increased understanding and reliance in spite of mutual competition

  • increased interaction

  • joint planning of investments yields cost savings

  • increased recognition from outside the region.

19These positive aspects suggest a success story of cooperation of competing, regionally adjacent ports. This Finnish experience also highlights the type of people needed for a positive approach: open-minded individuals, creative minds and the willingness to bear responsibility. The most recent example of an initiative stemming from this region is the creation of the Short Sea Shipping Promotion Centre in Turku in June 2000. It is embedded in the “Logistics Region Concept”.

3.4. Short Sea Shipping Promotion Centres

20European initiatives to enhance the competitive situation of coastal shipping within the intermodal chain reach back to the late eighties. Considerable progress has been made in raising the awareness for this issue, but substantial advances on shifting cargo can’t be seen up to now. Since 1997 initiatives were discussed to set up focal points or promotion centres. But as usual, no money was available and many industry representatives were conspicuous about just another state intervention. So we identified a programme of the structural funds, which would eventually support a project. We wrote a concept and went to the Bremen ministry of ports and foreign affairs. They were very interested and said to us as a research team: get the industry into the boat, and we’ll get the co-funding. They were extremely supportive in setting up a large meeting with representatives from shipping companies, ports, the retail sector, agents, etc. After articulating immense criticism mainly focussing on the privacy of data and rejecting any idea of co-operating between Bremen and Lower Saxony, even worse between the two of them and Holland, the negotiations came to a standstill until somebody read our documents and realised that there was already a centre existing in Rotterdam. This existing “external competition” triggered a new approach.

21One of their mains tasks was and is to make the market transparent to shippers in the hinterland. To do so, you must make some of your data, your prices available. To cut a long story short, we united main private and public actors around the table, visited a large number of commercial and industrial companies, heard more criticism which allowed us to take all these considerations on board and present a project, which in the end not only won the funding from the North Sea secretariat, but is also spreading in gaining in the regions working therein. In Germany we will be setting up the bureaux next year and even the formerly hesitant Lower Saxony administration advertised the job of a port promotion officer.

22Presently, there is a debate going on regarding the benefits and constraints of national, respectively regional centres. To this end, a large project application has been submitted under the 5th Framework Programme for Research of the EU requesting for a Thematic Network on Short Sea Shipping and has been successfully evaluated. Presently, the negotiations on this REALISE project are ongoing. Further activities within the Interreg IIIB North Sea and Baltic Sea Region are planned.

23Also political success has been reached: in many EU member states currently SSS promotion centres are being set up on national and regional level, supported both by industry and administration.

3.5. The Maritime City Network

24The Maritime City Network is an initiative of the Cities of Bilbao, Genoa, Southampton and Bremen who established in December 1998 a network for cities with international ports in Europe. It arose from two parallel initiatives of the mayor of Bremen and the Southampton city council. The network has since made considerable progress, new members are the cities of Lisbon and Cadiz, discussions are held with Barcelona and Antwerp. The network arose from recognition of common economic, social and territorial characteristics of the founder member cities. It builds on existing links and co-operation with other European networks such as the Global Cities Dialogue, MARIS, Telecities, AMRIE, Città d’acqua, etc. The MCN is open for other maritime cities to join the initiative.

25Major objective of the network is to answer the challenges resulting from the structural change in port cities. Most of the European port cities have to:

  • cope with industrial decline and structural change,

  • manage the changes of port functions and port structures,

  • modernise the urban transportation systems,

  • revitalise the water fronts and old harbour areas,

  • preserve oceans and rivers as a resource for further economic and social development.

26The members of the Maritime City Network identified that close relations, exchange of experience, development of best practice and cooperation between port cities is helpful to find solutions for common problems and to promote the joint interests of port cities in Europe. Meetings are held on a bi-annual basis hosted by coastal cities. Co-operation is informal and unbureaucratic. Confidence amongst the members is regarded as imperative for success. Present initiatives are found in the cultural and safety domain: the MARDIMUS project develops a new approach to cultural heritage and brings together industrial actors with museums and archives. Two project application to the EU within the IST and the eContent proposals are being presented.

3.6. Port co-operation in Japan

27The Tokyo Ministry of Transport commissioned a nation-wide report in 1998, which is supposed to give policy recommendations to address the situation of the port industry. In this context, a study was carried out to identify patterns of co-operation and innovation, which have been applied in the European ports sector and relate them to specific Japanese circumstances. This study focuses mainly on the handling of containerized cargo.

28The regional competition in south-east Asia demands more and more to offer reduced rates in Japanese ports. But beyond the cutting of costs, such as e.g. handling charges and other fares to be paid by the shipping industry, co-operation can enhance efficiency and thus contribute to reducing costs as well.

29For somebody coming from a western society, it is sometimes difficult to understand Japanese economic systems because of different cultural backgrounds and incomparable patterns in addressing problems. I had first hand experience of this recently when the Japanese Ministry tor Transport asked me to visit a number of Japanese ports to prepare a study on their competitive situation. The often cited “Japan Inc.” is still alive, despite many changes, which have taken place since the early nineties. In a consensus-driven society, proactive measures are difficult to address, very often because the group, or a champion naming the problem straightforward, can’t be easily identified, or will not speak in public. There is a clear and strong division between the individual and the public opinion. Another thing different from western systems is the pattern of life-long employment and the high loyalty paid to your company. These issues promote an instinct for keeping things as they are. However, the drive for greater efficiency is beginning to break the social contract between labour and corporate sector.

30In the Japanese ports industry a pattern of state monopolies has developed which allowed private companies to cash good profits in a protected world. This applies to operators as well as to the mighty marine construction industry. Similar to comparable patterns in Europe, these industries also face difficulties in adapting to the situation, which is forcing them to achieve a higher efficiency.

31Ports are, within the Japanese port policy, regarded as important „to push forward regional development”. A topic of many of my discussions and interviews was the issue of overcapacity. There seems to be an overcapacity in overall container terminals, but this needs to be more precisely judged according to the depth of the pier and its regional embeddedness. Overcapacity also is closely linked with rivalry and competing ports. New ports are being built in a number of regions. But with the Japanese and linked Asian crisis many finance schemes have become obsolete and need revision. Income (Rol) will not nearly come as high as anticipated and either subsequent gaps need to be filled or plans slowed. It is here where the issue of port rivalry comes into the game. We heard more than one clear statement that the assumed growth rate for the port or district is based on attracting cargoes from other districts. That is difficult to understand from a national point of view.

32There are chiefly two risks linked to overcapacities: they are a waste of public money including high interest and mortgage payments which, despite an interest of the construction industry and the attached jobs, is difficult to justify and secondly overcapacities induce a spiral of price cutting (adjacent ports with under-utilised capacity tend to reduce prices in their attempt to attract customers) increasing thus the financial burden because of a R-o-I which results being much less than anticipated.

33Supported by the frequently limited commercial attitude of staff this situation in turn leads to an unnecessary stress on local and regional governments budgets and a call for further subsidies from the central government (MOT).

34There might be legal and/or technical changes necessary, which allow Japanese port enterprises to co-operate and invest in various ways so that useless competition is substituted by co-operation. One obvious regulation, the licence system, was already addressed. Furthermore, it might be considered useful to allow the public development corporation to become financially involved in other ports or port operation. This might reduce the intention to base planning on rivalry rather than on macro-economically sound positions. Two mains areas of action were identified, the first one being more in the business administration, the second one focusing on macro-economical action.

35Regarding the efficiency of operations the following issues were investigated:

  • exclusive lease / new scheme

  • port labour scheme

  • handling charges and the

  • lack of EDI integration

36The second analyses to be conducted on the efficiency of planning was to address:

  • lack of co-ordination between various government levels

  • local and private interests vs. the community as a whole stubborn positions either in favour of “old scheme” or total “privatisation”.

4. Benefits of networking

37As indicated at the start, it was quite clear for a western researcher to see the impediments in the Japanese system, which has a fundamentally different understanding of cooperation and networking. In a state-run society, economies of scale, such as in the Finnish example, were of relatively little interest. The strength of “pulling together” was rather seen on the regional level, than for the nation as a whole. Now, speaking about a “functioning social logic” we are at exactly the same point: to look for benefits.

38I’d like to take the example of the MCN to demonstrate the benefits or - if you like the term-the cost-benefit or even the effectiveness of such an engagement. As always in policy, the impact is difficult to measure. It depends on the goals you want to reach, if they are “achievable” or too ambitious. A qualitative and quantitative assessment is possible in theory. You need to formulate your aims and establish benchmarks, against which progress is measured.

4.1. Qualitative comparison

39The criteria for a quality assessment would be in general terms “intelligence building” and more specific:

  • Establish a reliable contact base for policy making and projects (I am stressing the term reliable as it not so much what you know, but who you know to be efficient in networking).

  • Motivation, training and development of staff through international contacts.

  • “Import” of innovation via simple best-practice comparison (they are handling procedure X that way, looks good, we could try the same).

  • Development of the technological and administrative base through the establishment of joint projects.

  • Promotion of your own city or region (at low costs) for investment, tourism, etc.

  • Support for administration and parts of the industry to identify reliable partners.

  • How well could contacts and initiatives be transferred to your home base? is the MCN a respected “figure” in Bremen.

40Asking yourself these sometimes uncomfortable questions puts the actors under a necessary, reflective “pressure” to work highly efficient and avoid criticism on the subject of the often criticised or envied “euro-tourist”. International relations are part of the city marketing which benefits on a wider economic both public and private actors in the respective region.

41During a given analytical phase it is possible to set yourself evaluation targets. They would start with an internal SWOT (Strengths, weaknesses, options, threats) analysis on an agreed common ground. The respective results will be compared under four categories:

  • What does the different approach or result look like?

  • Why are others better?

  • How much better are they?

  • Is the “best practice” identified portable?

42This general practice allows also between cities to measure your competitive situation. Important for the example of the MCN is to note, that this benchmarking exercise up to now has not taken on a formal level. Activities up to now were quite informal and hence less systematic. But all partners regarded the networking as useful.

4.2. Quantitative assessment

43For a “numeric” description of the effectiveness you’d have to allocate first some marks in terms of EURO to the above listed quality criteria. For example “international contacts” could be evaluated as well as more political benefits such as the contribution to the re-election of your city mayor or similar things. You can count the number of meetings with industry representatives of hours spent, etc. This is impossible and does not lead to facts on which decisions could be based, but the question must be allowed. There are constantly objections to European and international networking by a certain group of people. Often trigged by jealousy or more frequently a total ignorance of the importance of the enrichment of public administration and private sector by inter-cultural contacts.

44However, you can compare the cost-input with an output in terms of funds secured for e.g. structural funds or research projects. Take my example: the city of Bremen for example is investing in 2000 a couple of ten thousand Euro and is hoping to secure research funding for 2001-2003 worth € 600.000. That is not bad, but is a very limited indicator.

45The difference to a “normal” consultancy, which specialises on proposal-writing is mainly twofold: the good contacts of the MCN are contributing to find reliable partners for a good project, which maintains its momentum also after the funded phase ends. Secondly, if you count on top of this the more intangible benefits mentioned above, you could speak of a good investment.

5. Conclusions

46Being aware of the limited possibilities to measure the effectiveness of a networking operation, it is ever more important to come back to the theory and properly plan your action. And this exactly is one of the lessons that can be learned from the EU’s maritime industrial policy of the nineties: the concept of building up institutions like AMRIE and the MIF was done to large extent based on a “gut-feeling” of certain decision makers. The aims of the process were not clearly enough defined. But, after all, they have survived and are even working - as in the case of the MIF - on their own reform. This is certainly something AMRIE should be doing soon, too. Being dependent on public funds, no matter if they are membership fees or money coming from European projects or budget lines, you owe it to the taxpayer, not only to justify your expenditure properly, but also to reflect on the mission you are pursuing and if it still adequate. One of the risks of networks or institutions stemming from network activities is that they often generate their own life and strive for self-perpetuation rather than seeking to attain their stated objectives. There is a need within such structures for a mechanism to ensure that “you constantly keep your eye on the ball”.

47The starting point for a network is to strengthen your own competitive situation. Two factors determine it: productivity and the business framework. If you want to influence this, you need a proper information management. Both in informatics, but also in the area of “economic intelligence”. You need to know exactly where you are. Taking an example from outdoor sports or mathematics you know that it is difficult to determine your situation, when you’re moving like on a sailing boat or standing on top of a mountain caught in foggy weather. You need at least three reference points to establish your present position. In business you have an open number of players, who act, and are not standing more or less still like stars, the sun or a landmark. In other words, your attitude towards information management must be extremely flexible and you need a reliable “tool” to keep the number of influencing factors down or under control. You must at least know what the others want and how they intend to achieve it.

48If you decide that a network is your right environment, because you know that only with others your voice will be heard, you need first to define your goals and the radius of the network activities. When starting a network, be aware of chances and limitations, monitor the way how and which benefits you achieve and include regular checks. This way, the “ball” does not drift over the sideline.

49The initiation of a network process must be undertaken with restraint but unambiguously. Existing resources should be used; allowing for a certain amount of redundancy (through other networks) and reliable social relations can be built upon which represent a first step towards a functioning parameter of ‘social functional logic’.

50The issue at hand remains the creation of the basic conditions for economic players. This is obviously a long-term process. Benefits are often intangible in such a way that they be described, but not measured, as shown above. If you lobby actively for preventing a certain legislation, which would for example complicate an import procedure, you can’t quantify your output, but you know that you prevented your company from losses.

51In conclusion, four factors emerge as noteworthy for the analysis and discussion of networks in general and for pro-active measures:

  • Clusters or networks are not only a response to a new economic pattern, but an integral part of an innovation-driven system;

  • Very often informal links are established on the basis of trust and reciprocity;

  • Although established in close liaison with public institutions, the private sector should be “in the driver’s seat”;

  • Power structures are evident not only in the traditional hierarchical way but manifest a variety of diffuse patterns, therefore, highly communicative personal skills are crucial for decision-makers.

52The risks might appear high at first glance. But the real questions for those of us who care about the state of our industry and its future must be: What are the alternatives? What is the real cost of Inaction? And, most importantly, can we afford it?



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- Seidel, Karsten, Towards an Integrated Maritime Policy in Europe - The case for networking in the port industry, in 1998 Wave Joint Study and International Port Seminar, The Nippon Foundation, Tokyo, 1999, pp. 121-135.

- Heichlinger, Alexander, A Regional Representation in Brussels: The right idea for influencing EU policy making?, European Institute of Public Administration, Maastricht, 1999, ISBN 90-6779-136-9.

- Seidel, Karsten, Maritime Netzwerke und europäïsche Industriepolitik, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, Peter Lang Verlag 2000; ISBN 3-631-36710-4.


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