Press release

Parliament sinks port services proposals

Transport - 18-01-2006 - 15:33
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Dockers protest in Strasbourg

Dockers protest in Strasbourg

The European Parliament for a second time torpedoed proposals on market access to port services. Many MEPs demanded in its place legislation on transparency and fair competition between ports. A number of MEPs also criticised the omission of Parliament's wishes on self-handling and pilot services, which were extremely controversial points of the first ports package.

Parliament rejected the Commission proposal on market access to port service with 532 votes in favour, 120 against and with 25 abstentions.  A majority of MEPs, namely from the PES, ALDE, Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL, IND/DEM and UEN groups but also from  the EPP-ED group felt that the present proposal was counterproductive and would create uncertainty on the future of ports in the EU.
This result voices Parliament's concern that the draft Commission text still does not meet the need for clear a clear legal and legislative framework for Community ports. Key issues such as transparent state aid and other supports to ports and fair competition between ports should be reconsidered with the involvement of Parliament and all those represented in the sector.
The European Parliament rejected a conciliation agreement between the Council and Parliament on port services in November 2003.  At the end of Commission's last term in office, the Commission presented fresh proposals, to the dismay of many MEPs.
Commissioner Barrot stated that he would consult the college of Commissioners before deciding whether or not to withdraw the proposal.
Debate preceding the vote
Transport Commissioner Jacques BARROT said the package met the needs first identified by the Commission when it came up with its first proposal in 2001. The goals of the present proposal, presented by former Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, were to establish freedom to provide port services, reflecting the Treaties, the Lisbon strategy and the aim of reducing road congestion. It included respect for environmental rules and safety at sea, along with employment and social security concerns.  The package called for guidelines on port services and financial transparency.
"I want to underline the importance of efficient ports as an essential link in the transport chain and development of sea motorways. Ninety per cent of our external trade goes through sea ports. We need a clear set of rules to foster investment. The Commission has made the changes it believed necessary from the original version.  I am aware of the reservations of some, and I intend to listen carefully to the debate."
Parliament's rapporteur, Georg JARZEMBOWSKI (EPP-ED, DE), thanked the Commission for its readiness to listen.  He said that after months of intensive debate, all participants were in favour of fair conditions for competition between sea ports.  There were no major amendments to transparency provisions.  "I find it incomprehensible why four groups want to refer this back to the committee ... European rules are needed.  It is a matter of free establishment and the right to provide services. This needs clear cut rules."
Mr Jarzembowski made five specific points. Firstly, if there was to be opening of market access for new service providers, this means opening up leases and introducing calls for tender. Secondly, the transitional rules meant leases could continue for up to 45 years, so there was no risk to jobs or present IT contracts.  Thirdly, self handling should be removed from the directive, but there was  no risk of social dumping as the Member States' social rules and collective bargaining arrangements would not be affected.  Fourthly, market access for new companies would mean the most efficient, best priced bid winning.  Fifthly, Europe's import and export businesses require efficient and cost effective ports, in a way that respects the interests of existing providers and supports employment in the sector.
"If it is to be rejected, there will be no European rules, which  would create planning and legal uncertainty.  I want to say to my colleagues, try not to worry too much about yesterday's strikes.  We should not allow the actions of some to influence us," he said.
Speaking for the Employment Committee, Stephen HUGHES (PES, UK) said that yesterday's violence was unacceptable, but that MEPs should understand the frustration of dockers. It was ill informed and an insult to the European Parliament  to bring back an almost unchanged proposal only 18 months after MEPs rejected it.  "Self handling is ludicrous.  It would create a health and safety nightmare. Opening pilot services to tender at the lowest price is ludicrous.  In my area of Teesside, with its major chemical industries, it would expose the entire population to danger.  The Commission should revise its proposal completely before bringing it forward."
Political Group Speakers
Speaking for the EPP-ED group, Marianne THYSSEN (BE) said that when Parliament rejected the first package, "the Commission has sent us a new container with some extra cargo, but the load is much the same.  The Commission's proposal ignores Parliament's voice. It sees our contribution as superfluous.  Self handling is not the only problem.  Our group sees us heading towards rejection.  The rapporteur is worthy of our respect, but he no longer has the opportunity to find a majority for a feasible and useful solution.  Whether this is the end of the package, I don't know, but we need to set course for a solution to investment and for people too, with legal certainty, equanimity and calm." 
Willi PIECYK (DE), speaking for the Socialist group, said what some dockers had  done in Strasbourg the day before had gone beyond the pale. Such acts of violence were unacceptable.  He said, however, that he would be voting against the Commission proposal: "It overlooks the realities of EU ports.  They are functioning economic structures.  We want to export the competition which already exists in most ports.  This directive would bring more red tape and put lives and livelihoods at risk.  Why jeopardise safety standards?  There is already cut-throat competition in most ports."  He said we should not be replacing European social standards with Asian ones.  "We want you to stop this inherited package and develop a fair competition policy and good example for ports across the world," he told the Commissioner.
Anne  JENSEN (DK), speaking for the Liberal group, said that after 50 years of the EU, there was no specific legal framework for port services.  Port services, she said, did not come under the free-movement provisions in the Treaties.  However, the current proposal did not take into account the full needs of ports.  Mrs Jensen said that she was in favour of a port services directive but not the current proposal and welcomed the work of the rapporteur, Mr JARZEMBOWSKI, who had tried to improve the proposal.  She was surprised at the protests against the European Parliament, given that  Parliament had supported the dockers' requests.  She was in favour of freer competition between service providers and ports but was opposed to state-aid and monopolies.  She said that the Liberal Group was split but many MEPs would vote against the current proposal.
Joost LAGENDIJK (NL), for the Greens/EFA group, quipped that it was an "achievement" for the Commission to spend so much time on a proposal that was so dramatically criticised.  He regretted the "small minority" of dockers who demonstrated violently at the European Parliament.  The directive, he said, was opposed both by the trade unions and by service providers.  He called for the Commission's proposal to be withdrawn and for better control of state aid.
Erik MEIJER (GUE/NGL, NL) was against the proposal, understanding that it would "cause more problems than it solves."  He anticipated that if the directive was passed, it would mean job losses, very little continuity within port services and unfair competition.  He rejected the idea of self-handling, noting that its only purpose is to replace skilled workers with cheap labour brought in from outside Europe.  He also described the proposal as a "time bomb" and a "repeat" of the original one, noting how the same arguments against the original are still relevant now.
Patrick LOUIS (IND/DEM, FR) spoke against the directive, declaring that the proposal was nearly identical to the first, with the same list of services and the same objectives.  He noted that the rare changes which the new proposal does contain do nothing to improve the original.  He talked of its potential damage to small business and the higher costs it would incur relating to market access.  He acknowledged the fact that the port services are in need of a reform, but, however, considered that this directive in no way satisfies that need.
Roberts ZĪLE (LV), for the UEN group, said that the Commission proposal "was typical and usual" because "it was presented without an impact assessment."  He also said that Baltic ports would suffer from competition from Russian ports.  He, however, regretted that the "violent minority and the position of the Left in the Parliament would claim victory following an eventual rejection".
Ashley MOTE (NA, UK) spoke against the directive declaring it as a proposal that "imposes controls that are neither necessary nor desirable."  He described the privatised sector of the British port services sector, and considered that the directive threatens to undermine the confidence of British investors by interfering with freely negotiated contracts.  He asserted that "whenever the EU starts talking about creating a level playing field it reveals a fundamental ignorance of enterprise", and expressed disappointment at the Commission's "indifference" to the problems posed by the inclusion of pilotage in the proposal.  Mr. Mote said he was in favour of rejecting the proposal saying that "if passed, this directive will cost without yielding benefit, and slow down progress - the house should throw it out."
UK speakers during the debate
Jeffrey  TITFORD (IND/DEM, UK) recalled that Parliament had rejected the first port services directive in 2003 and nothing had changed since.  The proposal represented great danger to UK ports including Mr Titford's local ports of Felixstowe and Harwich.  He questioned why UK ports should be subjected to these dangerous proposals which would not lead to greater competition but rather endanger jobs.
Philip BRADBOURN (EPP-ED, UK) said that he had serious concerns about the current Commission proposal.  He could not understand "why the Commission could not take no for an answer". Not one UK port, he said, supported the Commission proposal and the authorisation and tendering parts of the proposed directive would not lead to greater competition as the Commission had suggested.  Ports would "cherry-pick" from the directive and lead to distortions in the market.  Mr Bradbourn said that he was in favour of any proposal based on free-market principles but this was not the case with the current proposal.  The Commission, he said, should use the UK model as a way forward. He told the Commission "no means no in any language".
Sajjad Haider KARIM (ALDE, UK) had a message for the dockers who protested outside the European Parliament: MEP after MEP had stood up and supported the dockers, he said, and therefore he called for the dockers to support  Parliament.  He also recalled that Parliament had effectively rejected the directive in 2003 and therefore said that the process was "democratically deficient."  He also recalled that UK ports were already privatised and this proposal was mainly aimed at continental ports.  He said it would damage considerably the UK ports including, Liverpool and Manchester in the north west of England.  He said that the proposals were fundamentally flawed and should be rejected.
Richard HOWITT (PES, UK) said that given that the European Parliament had rejected the directive in 2003, no one would have believed that the Commission would bring back the procedure.  It would endanger jobs of highly skilled workers including in the East of England ports in his constituency.  In 2005, there was a 50 per cent reduction in accidents in the port of Tilbury and no accidents at all in Great Yarmouth.  He stated that the UKIP MEPs had voted in favour of the legislation in the Transport Committee.  "Competition should be between ports but not within ports", he said.
Response to the debate
Responding to the debate, Commissioner BARROT said he wanted to explain the history behind the proposal from the previous Commission. This had been tabled based on the need for a clear legal and legislative framework for ports, which handle 90 per cent of EU exports. The new proposal contained a strict limitation of self-handling.  It would not violate existing social rights.  There was a binding commitment on all port service suppliers to be licensed, accepting base line rules on EU social legislation. The directive, he said, would not affect application of national legislation on working or employment conditions.  "I would not have supported it if I saw the risks in it that some of you do," he said.  He agreed that other important problems existed. There needed to be more transparency in costs and services and creation of fairer competition.  The aim was to incite more investment.
He agreed with speakers who has said there was much diversity in situations of sea ports across Europe and the call to avoid an over-centralising approach was reasonable.  "There has been rapid technological change - this is another factor which changes the situation from when the directive was originally put together ...  I want to express my respect for Parliament, but I must also respect the work carried out by the Commission..  It is reasonable to wait for the vote and then draw the appropriate conclusions."
REF.: 20060113IPR04276