In this new episode of Unreported Europe, our journalist Hans von der Brelie looks at the relocation of bicycle production in France and the impact of the anti-dumping measures taken by the EU to protect the European industry from the unfair competition from countries with low production costs Report in the Ardennes and Saint-Etienne, where industry and employment have suffered from decades of relocation.
Closed shops, houses for sale … We are in Revin, in the Ardennes, in the north-east of France. Here, as in many regions of France, the scars of decades of industrial relocation to low-wage countries are still very visible.
But there are still some reasons to be hopeful, as a major bicycle manufacturer has announced its return to Revin, near the border with Belgium.
The European Union also has the tools to fight unfair competition and protect its industry. The European Commission has in particular introduced customs taxes for certain sectors and products in order to limit imports and revive “made in Europe” production.
The mayor of Revin and the president of the community of municipalities welcome this protection offered by Europe. “I think you have to protect yourself, it’s obvious”, agrees Bernard Dekens, president of Ardennes Rives de Meuse. _ “We cannot constantly sell our industry to China and the countries of Southeast Asia.” _
“Revin was 12,500 inhabitants in the 1980s and 1990s”, remembers Daniel Durbecq, the mayor of the city. “Today it is a little over 6,000 inhabitants. We have lost half the population and we have an unemployment rate of 27%, which is enormous.”
“The great satisfaction for us is to see a historic French brand, Mercier, which was in South-East Asia, come back to settle in Revin”, welcomes Bernard Dekens. “This proves that the industry is not dead in the Ardennes and that it is possible for a company which relocated a few years ago to come back to produce in France.”
The goal for Mercier is to start production early next year to produce half a million bicycles per year. This represents an investment of eleven million euros which is largely subsidized by French and European taxpayers.
Problem: Many components are still made in Asia. This is why the investor opted for production in Revin, near the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. The option also facilitates access to the main European markets.
Come back, that’s it “proximity to the largest European countries, openness to northern and eastern Europe, and access to a market of 110 million inhabitants”, emphasizes Maryline Le Maou, project manager at Ardennes Developpement.
The return of a bicycle manufacturer to the region is also good news on the employment front. 270 jobs will be created at Revin. And proof that there is a significant job offer: in just a few days, hundreds of people have submitted their applications to the Pôle Emploi agency.
Among them, Stéphanie Jodar, who is attending an information meeting today on the new recruitment method. A rather innovative method. Indeed, the skills of the candidates will be tested through simulations of practical tasks, such as welding.
“A lot of people moved because of unemployment. Before, it’s true, Revin was quite populated.”, remembers Stéphanie. “Now there is hardly anyone left. Opening a factory here, I think it will bring a lot of people.”
Some job seekers remember the site before it became a brownfield site. When his factory closed, Michael Brioso began a long period of instability, doing odd jobs. “Since I live in Revin, finding a job there is a great advantage, no left or right movements”, note Michael. “At the moment I’m working on an interim basis: it’s a week on the one hand, a week on the other … But that’s not a life in fact.”
“It’s a mirror of the larks, this anti-dumping tax”
The Mercier company intends to meet a booming demand for both mechanical and electric bikes. However, CEO Jean-Marc Seghezzi is not in favor of the anti-dumping taxes put in place at the EU’s external borders. “It’s a mirror of the larks, this anti-dumping tax”, he judges. “We know very well that 80% of the manufacturers of our components are Asian. I think that we would especially need to think about relocating these productions or to encourage the world manufacturers, in this case Asian, to come to us in Europe, even in France. “
We are now going to Saint-Étienne, the historic cradle of bicycle manufacturing in France. In the 1920s, several thousand people worked in factories in this sector. Joëlle Virissel studied the ups and downs of the industrial history of this city located about sixty kilometers from Lyon.
“In 1886, the British cycling champion Duncan presented the safety bicycle to Saint-Etienne”, she says. “He is welcomed by the Gauthier brothers who are armament mechanics who will all simply be inspired by it to produce the first French bicycle, in Saint-Étienne, and this will be the beginning of a great industrial history in our region. city”.
An adventure that will experience some complications at the end of the Trente Glorieuses. “There is a swarm of ideas, patent filings, inventions for gear changes, or even the invention of the derailleur, which took place in St Étienne in 1911”, she continues. “The 1920s were the golden age of the bicycle, but we have to face the facts that in the 1970s, with the economic climate, relocations and the rise of foreign manufacturers, Saint- Étienne will not be able to follow suit. “
Bringing the industry back to life is the goal of a Saint-Etienne start-up that has decided to launch a cargo bike model designed for families with children. A model that sells well. But how to explain this current renaissance of bicycles made in Europe?
“We only work with locals and we gain in agility and flexibility”, explains Patrice Faivre-Duboz, co-founder of Easy Design Technology. “In addition, if there are small modifications to be made, it is much easier to make them with locals than to go through emails and then eventually to be forced to travel to factories in China to do make products. “
“The objective is to offer a bike produced in France with a market price that is consistent with our competitors, and to stand out by telling our customers that this bike was manufactured locally and has not crossed two oceans and 15 000 km by boat “, explains Thibaud Vignali, sales director of the company.
Rising transport costs, greater awareness of climate issues, astute marketing and solid industrial know-how …: all these elements have breathed new life into the region, as in other countries of the ‘EU. And highly qualified workers, like Hani Mohamed Cherif, have become the “welders” of this new European success story. “It is very, very difficult to weld with aluminum for people who do not know, it is quite an art in fact”, notes Hani Mohamed Cherif, welder.
But is this a boom exclusively triggered by the demands of a growing market? Or have the EU’s anti-dumping taxes helped? We put the question to the leaders of this young company. “The anti-dumping taxes have also favored this choice precisely to really refocus everything at the local level and in neighboring countries”, assures Aurélien Bonnet, technical director of Easy Design Technology.
“We are lucky, here in France and in Europe, to be protected by laws, this famous anti-dumping tax which makes it possible to limit and significantly reduce imports of parts and bicycles from Asia, in order to protect the French economy and the European economy “, is satisfied Thibaud Vignali, sales director of the company.
Mounir Sajra was therefore probably right to put his career hopes in the boom of the bike made in France. This start-up employee recently signed his first CDI. The young Frenchman also believes in the anti-dumping policy of the European Union. “For me it’s something good, it will allow me to sell more”, he hopes.
So for companies returning to local supply chains, anti-dumping taxes are good news. But others disagree, presumably because they still depend on components made in Asia.
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