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Verbatim report of proceedings
Monday, 4 May 2009 - Strasbourg OJ edition

Ship-source pollution and penalties for infringements (debate)

  Luis de Grandes Pascual, rapporteur. (ES) Mr President, Vice-President of the Commission, Commissioner for Transport, Mr Tajani, President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, personally, I cannot imagine a greater finishing touch to the end of this parliamentary term than the adoption of this proposal for a directive on ship-source pollution and the introduction of penalties, including criminal penalties for pollution offences, which I hope will receive everyone’s support.

The consensus we have reached suggests that we have widespread support for the proposal and that it will be adopted tomorrow at first reading. Apart from the tremendous effort made by the three institutions during the negotiations phase, this is mostly due to the fact that we agree that the Community needs to take action in order to combat serious offences against the environment.

It is certainly true that Member States were initially suspicious, given that the measure intended for adoption – the Community’s acquisition of powers in the area of criminal law – will not be the fruit of a reform of the Treaties but, instead, will be achieved through legislation which, in addition, is unquestionable and of immense significance.

All this is derived from the need to address widespread problems in maritime transport, such as the worrying escalation of illicit operational discharges of ship-source polluting substances. Although we already have current international regulations to minimise this situation – the Marpol 73/78 convention – we are increasingly seeing glaring shortcomings as regards application and compliance; it has also been observed that the civil liability systems governing ship-source pollution in force at present are not sufficiently dissuasive.

Malpractice in certain areas of European coastlines is so recurrent that some of those responsible for maritime transport prefer to carry out the illicit practice of polluting, because it costs them less to pay the administrative penalty than to comply with the relevant legislation. Such behaviour has transformed the former principle of ‘the polluter pays’ into ‘pay to pollute’.

Indeed, by introducing criminal penalties on account of the severity and social stigma they carry in comparison with administrative penalties, the European Union is trying to deter potential polluters from any kind of contravention.

The reform is the fruit of negotiations with the Council, represented by the Czech presidency which, by the way, deserves my full praise, since it has had no shortage of political difficulties to face throughout its term of office; it is a combination of a structural reform of the directive, which does not affect the foundations of Parliament’s mandate and which fully respects the principle of subsidiarity, since the directive establishes the principle of sanctioning actions in the terms defined by the Court of Justice ruling, while leaving Member States to define the types of penalties.

Furthermore, it consolidates the difference between minor discharges and major infringements and the corresponding penalties these deserve. Thus far, we had succeeded. We simply had to reiterate the agreements reached in the debate and the adoption of Directive 2005/35/EC and of Council Framework Decision 2005/667/JHA, but according to the new legal basis, since the aforementioned rulings bring about the possibility that the Community legislator may adopt measures relating to the criminal law of Member States.

The main innovation we have added to this amending proposal, which will enable us to go a step further in our fight against environmental infringements in the maritime transport sector, is that it claims – as was defended by this rapporteur from the very first day – that repetition of minor discharges involving water pollution can also constitute a criminal infringement.

I am pleased to see I have not fought this battle alone, for Parliament lent me its support through members of the Committee on Transport and Tourism; the Commission and the Council, in the end, understood the significance and scale of my proposal.

May I express my sincere thanks to the shadow rapporteurs who have helped me in my endeavours and who have provided support in the tough negotiations with the Council and the Commission; I wish to acknowledge the draftsmen of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety for their contributions. We finally reached a compromise solution with regard to the date on which the directive shall come into force, which will be in the next 12 months.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that today we all have reason to be satisfied, for, with the adoption of this legislation and the approval of the third maritime package at the beginning of March, the European Union has strengthened its position as a leader in maritime safety. I am certain, ladies and gentlemen, that we will be an example to others.

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