Europe’s changing winds A storm of suspicion and hostility is set to sweep up Brussels’ maritime policy.
A new willingness to challenge the centralisation of power in European bureaucracies may have significant implications for other maritime issues previously thought settled.
In the aftermath of fiscal and economic crisis European institutions are coming under increased scrutiny across the Continent. This storm of suspicion and hostility is set to sweep up maritime policy in its wake. The headwinds against the European Commission’s newly proposed Port Services Regulation are a leading indicator of the antiestablishment forces now at work in European politics.
Having licked their wounds in the wilderness for some years after their proposed Port Services Directive was defeated in parliament—twice—the European Commission has decided that enough time has passed for it to propose the legislation again without shame, with several important modifications.
Most notably, the commission is now proposing that member governments cede to it direct control of port regulation laws. It has also removed control of cargo handling, a cause of fierce opposition by trade unions in the past, from the legislation, but has said that charges for such services should be subject to new independent regulation.
The commission has justified these new proposals as necessary steps to liberalised trade. Its hope is that the new, dirigiste proposals can not only reduce restrictive intra-port practices, but also lock such reduction in by removing it from the control of perhaps untrustworthy port authorities. Such justifications are ingenious, but fatally flawed: the operation and management of the Europe Union’s ports is so diverse as to make it almost impossible to apply a “catch-all” approach without producing increased bureaucracy and, probably, less efficient services.
The proposed regulation has met mixed and delayed responses from the European maritime trade groups. The European Seaports Organisation, though not particularly enamoured with the proposals, has not yet finalised its position. The European Community Shipping Association, sensing prospective advantage, mildly favours the proposal.
This low-key industry response, however, is belied by the surprisingly fierce resistance to the proposal from the larger member states, which has driven battle over the issue from national legislatures to Brussels.
On this occasion, the UK government has been firm in its objection to the regulations, following the lead of the majority of UK port owners and authorities, who expect to be disadvantaged by external interference in the smooth running of their operations.
Most surprisingly, the French government, traditionally aligned against British policy in Europe, is perhaps even more strongly opposed. The shadow of Marine Le Pen menaces Brussels’ erstwhile friends in Paris. Under this pressure, the battleground has now switched to Brussels and the European Parliament, where the proposals are due to be discussed by the parliament’s transport and tourism committee in the autumn.
This new willingness, and incentive, to challenge the centralisation of power in European Bureaucracies may have significant implications for other maritime issues previously thought settled.
A case in point is the proposed shipping emissions regulations due to be implemented by January 2015— well before the International Maritime Organization has completed its own proposals—whose prospects for timely implementation dim by the month.
If the new winds of change do not grow to unmanageable force, they present the prospect of improved circumstances for the maritime industry in Europe. While the maritime industry greatly appreciates the achievements of the Common Transport Policy in delivering more efficient movement of freight and passengers, as well as improving the concern given to social and environmental impacts, it also chafes under the restrictions of Europe’s overenthusiastic bureaucracy.
The nationalist-driven reassertion of member state authority has already helped ameliorate these problems, and promises to do so further as it proceeds.