In order to keep Bill Clinton on-message during what would become his successful 1992 presidential campaign a policy strategist coined the phrase “The economy, stupid”. The phrase was meant to be an internal aide memoire but it went public, became a campaign message, and was lengthened to “It’s the economy, stupid.” Kevin Mayne, formerly the CEO of CTC and now the Development Director at the European Cyclists’ Federation, has a similar message for bicycle advocates and members of the bicycle industry, “It’s jobs, stupid.” In 2014 the ECF released a study that showed Europe's cycling economy sustained 655,000 jobs and had the potential to create many more. This, says Mayne, has far more power to influence politicians than cycling’s health, social and environmental benefits.
At Velo-City Nantes in June, Mayne presented the study’s findings again, and stressed that cycling is bigger, in jobs terms, than “European heritage” industries which have often been cosseted by the EU. The cycling economy’s 655,000 jobs – which includes bicycle production, tourism, retail, infrastructure and services – exceeds the 615,000 jobs in mining and quarrying, and is almost twice the number employed in the steel sector.
“We can create more jobs for Europeans through investment in cycling, not only because it has a proven record for creation of green and sustainable jobs, but because of the huge contributions it makes to the EU’s wider objectives,” said Mayne. “Bicycling creates more jobs than biotech!”
The ECF’s “Jobs and job creation in the European cycling sector” study is aiming to unlock funding for cycling from parts of the EU not hitherto interested in cycling which, of course, straddles many sectors, including transport, sport and health. For instance, the EU Commission has a €300bn investment plan for achieving growth by 2020. And for growth, read jobs.
Mayne said: “One story trumps everything else. We can sell health, and climate change, and they go in our economic arguments, but when politicians say ‘we haven’t got any money for those things but if there were some jobs in it we’d take some money from the growth fund’ then you have a different conversation, with a completely different department of government and you are of the moment.”
The ECF believes at least €2bn could be unlocked for cycling from EU growth subsidies.
From the ECF stand at Velo-city Mayne told me: “When a bike company meets a politician and says ‘if the conditions are right I’m going to open a new factory, bringing production back to the EU from Taiwan or China because it’s better to build in Europe’ that’s powerful. The new bike valley cluster in Romania is an example of what’s happening. And Flanders is putting on more jobs in cycling then biotech. Their regional government is saying ‘right, we’ll invest.’”
Mayne believes there are signs cycling could win big from the EU. From July to December the presidency of EU goes to Luxembourg, and from January to June 2016 the presidency will be held by the Netherlands – both countries have said they were willing to work on a cycling plan while in charge. In addition, Violeta Bulc, the EU’s Commissioner for Transport, is an everyday cyclist.
During the hearing where she was formally appointed, she said: “I am a very devoted cyclist. If you go to Slovenia you will see ministers leaving the meetings in big cars – I am at the back cycling my bike. I just love it. I go to work by bike, and I have seen what the Cohesion Funds and Structural Funds have done for cycling, for example in my own country.”
In her “application” to become the EU Commissioner of Transport she wrote: “I am convinced that we need to make alternatives to private car usage more attractive. I will therefore promote non-motorised forms of transport such as walking or cycling, i.e. through better protecting the most vulnerable road users.”
Mayne said Ms Bulc was keen to support cycling: “We’re fine-tuning behind the scenes on what form that support might take.”
He added: “The next 12 months are critical.” But if the economic arguments get heard, cycling could benefit and, according to Mayne, “that would be a milestone in 35 years of work [from the ECF]. It’s exciting.”