Craftmanship: Presentation of the study on a European policy for the craft sector by the Belgian Presidency of the Council

On 12 June 2024, the Belgian Presidency of the Council organised an event dedicated to the craft sectors titled “A European policy for the craft sector“. Hosted by Belgian Minister for SMEs David Clarinval, the event focused on three important themes: an overview of the position of the craft sector in the different Member States; policies to support the craft sector in Belgium; and the sharing of best practices to promote national support policies and potential support measures at European level.

Minister Clarinval emphasised the local quality provided by crafts and their key role in preserving historical and specific knowledge and skills, as well as the need to establish the right conditions for the craft sectors to continue to contribute to the EU economy. Following a presentation of the situation of the craft industry in Belgium, an overview of the results of the study “A European policy for the craft sector” carried out under the Belgian Presidency was shared.

This study identified 89 good practices from various craft sectors offering future-oriented opportunities, including craft trades in the construction and renovation sectors. Of these good practices, 10 were selected for more in-depth analysis, including the Norwegian project Norsk håndverksinstitutt, which employs graduate crafts students in museums to showcase trades and attract young visitors and schools; the Dutch Skills heroes initiative making vocational students compete in many traditional trades; or the Greek initiative Lesvos Solidarity which aims to teach craft skills and upcycling to refugees to provide them with an income and meaning, and the Boulouki autumn school focusing on collaboration between craftsmen, engineers, architects and university to bridge traditional and sustainable construction.

Based on the observation that there is no European framework for the craft sectors, the study stressed 7 priorities for better support of crafts:

  1. Improving the image of crafts: to face the issue of an outdated image, a new status, value and appreciation should be given to crafts;
  2. Valuing crafts as an economic sector: craftwork are often seen as a hobby, art, heritage, tourism or tradition, whereas it is driven by entrepreneurs highly contributing to the economy;
  3. Highlighting the sustainable aspects of crafts: crafts are part of the reuse of materials, repair, upcycling, local consumption and high-quality products;
  4. Establishing supporting policies: different national legislations apply, with no comparability line at European level, which could be established to enable better support at policy level;
  5. Developing specific education considerations: more craft students are needed, which will only be possible by improving the reputation of vocational training and the image of craft sectors;
  6. Making craft companies/trades more attractive: craft jobs should be given better status, financial support and administrative relief, through public support for starters;
  7. Keeping crafts alive: ensuring the transmission of knowledge and skills should be prioritised, documenting them and reflecting on how to modernise crafts.

This overview was followed by a discussion between experts, including the OECD, SMEunited, the Paris Institute Supérieur des Metiers and the World Crafts Council Europe. While highlighting the diversity of legislation and statutes covering the craft sector in Europe, a debate focused on the need for a European definition. In addition, modernisation paths based on the needs of different sectors, whether through the inclusion of technology and innovation, the updating of training programmes or a new type of relationship between craftspeople and students, were also discussed. In addition to training youth, facilitating the development of professional reconversion trajectories and entrepreneurial schemes, as well as the need of transversal skills like financial management and digital literacy, were also highlighted as solutions for making craft trades more appealing. SMEunited recalled how citizens turned to local goods and services in the days of COVID, showing the importance of local entrepreneurs, also in the context of the green transition of the whole European economy towards a more efficient use of resources.

The Belgian Presidency of the Council has explained that the priorities identified will be broken down into thorough policy recommendations when the study concludes at the end of its mandate, in order to include the essence of the exchanges held at the event, with a focus on the areas of legislation and definitions, communication, innovation, education, and supporting policies.

EBC is particularly attentive to developments in the craft sector at European level, given the high proportion of craft builders and renovators in its membership and the shared desire to boost the attractiveness of traditional building trades and change perceptions about the sector.

The study “A European policy for the craft sector” will be published by the Belgian Presidency of the Council by the end of June.