Documents considered on 11 September 2013 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

9 Intra-EU shipping ~



COM(13) 510

Commission Communication: Blue Belt. A single transport area for shipping

Legal base¯
Document originated8 July 2013
Deposited in Parliament12 July 2013
Basis of considerationEM of 13 August 2013
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in CouncilNot known
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


9.1 The idea of broad yet cohesive and sustainable maritime policy outcomes was discussed in the Commission's June 2006 Mid-Term Review White Paper on Transport Policy Keep Europe moving: a transport policy for sustainable mobility[23] and in its October 2007 proposal for a wide-ranging integrated maritime policy for the EU.[24]

9.2 In its January 2009 Communication Strategic goals and recommendations for the EU's maritime transport policy until 2018 the Commission noted the importance of shipping to the EU's economy and set out its ideas for a maritime transport strategy for the next nine years. The strategy aimed to promote EU shipping and related industries which are safe, secure and environmentally friendly while remaining efficient, adaptable and globally competitive. In a second Communication, Communication and action plan with a view to establishing a European maritime transport space without barriers, the Commission set out its concept of a EU maritime space without barriers, designed to extend the single market by simplifying administrative procedures for intra-EU maritime transport, particularly short sea shipping, in order to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of this sector as well as to deliver environmental benefits, and an action plan to establish such a space.[25]

9.3 Key action 2 of the 2012 Commission Communication Single Market Act II: Together for new growth called for the establishment of a true single market for maritime transport by no longer subjecting EU goods transported between EU seaports to the administrative and customs formalities that currently apply to goods arriving from third country ports. To achieve this, the Commission said it would table a "Blue Belt" package of legislative and non-legislative initiatives to reduce administrative burdens for intra-EU shipping to a level comparable to that of other transport modes (air, rail, and road).[26] (The term Blue Belt derives from a Commission Communication Blue Growth: opportunities for marine and sustainable growth, in which the Commission said that the maritime transport space without barriers "should be further developed into a 'Blue Belt' of free maritime movement in and around Europe".)[27]

9.4 Following a Commission, Member State and trade workshop held in The Hague in January concerning the Single Market Act II and Blue Belt, the World Shipping Council[28] developed ideas for a new work item for Blue Belt, known as an eManifest. It outlined its reasons for requiring the eManifest as follows:

  • to harmonise the data elements to be included in the manifest and to establish, in EU legislation, a uniform electronic manifest provision applicable to maritime transport in all Member States;
  • to contribute to eliminating duplicative and redundant requirements; and
  • to use the manifest, rather than the New Computerised Transit System, as a mechanism for providing proof of EU status of goods carried by Blue Belt ships.

9.5 The Council's draft proposals are being developed further in the Commission and are the subject of ongoing discussions with Member States.

The document

9.6 This Communication sets out the Commission's ideas for developing the Blue Belt, under which ships could operate freely within the single market with a minimum of administrative burden, reducing turn round times in port and thus cutting costs to shipping businesses. Safety, security, environmental protection and customs and tax revenues would continue to be ensured by making optimal use of modern technology to monitor maritime transport and the cargo concerned. The Commission suggests that the Blue Belt package should contain two separate measures:

  • enhancement of the existing Regular Shipping Service Scheme (ships which call only at ports within the EU); and
  • use of an "eManifest" to facilitate the control of cargo carried by vessels which also call at ports outside the EU.

Enhancement of the Regular Shipping Service (RSS) Scheme

9.7 RSSs are services which are authorised by the customs authorities on condition that the service calls only at ports in the customs territory of the EU. Goods carried on an RSS are treated in the same way as for goods moved within the EU by other transport modes. This means that the goods are deemed to be in free circulation in the EU, unless established otherwise, and it is not necessary to provide the customs authorities with proof that these goods have EU status when entering one Member State after leaving another.

9.8 The shipping industry has expressed concerns that the current process for authorising an RSS, as laid down in the Customs Code Implementing Provisions (Commission Regulation 2454/93), is unnecessarily cumbersome and inflexible. Before issuing an authorisation for a particular RSS, there is a 45-day period in which the authorising customs authority (in the Member State where the shipping company is established) has to consult the customs authorities of the other Member States used by that service. This consultation is carried out through the use of a common electronic information and communication system. If, after having been granted authorisation, the shipping company subsequently wishes to extend the service to additional Member States, it has to apply for a new authorisation in order that the customs authorities of the additional Member States can be consulted.

9.9 The Commission explains that it is currently seeking, through existing comitology procedures, to facilitate the authorisation process by:

  • reducing the consultation period from 45 days to 15 days; and
  • allowing shipping companies applying for authorisation to specify in advance any Member States that may be used by the service in the future as well as those currently used ¯ a shipping company would not then need to reapply for authorisation if it wanted to modify the service (to any of the specified Member States) after the authorisation had been issued.

Development of an electronic cargo manifest (eManifest)

9.10 The Commission reports a Blue Belt pilot project, which took place in 2011 in cooperation with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), involving over 250 vessels. The project was designed to show how the EMSA's SafeSeaNet traffic monitoring and information system could support the Blue Belt. The Commission says that it successfully demonstrated how it could enhance data provision to customs authorities, but the information provided did not distinguish between EU and non-EU goods. It comments that such a distinction is necessary for customs officials to be able to ensure that non-EU goods are supervised appropriately, while simultaneously facilitating passage of EU-goods.

9.11 The Commission outlines its intention to move the Blue Belt initiative forward by allowing non-Regular Shipping Services to use an electronic cargo manifest, that is an eManifest, to prove the status of EU goods on board such vessels and, contrary to current legislation, for these goods to retain their EU status even when the vessel visits a non-EU port providing they remain onboard. The Commission says it expects the eManifest to be operational by June 2015 to align with the implementation date for the Reporting Formalities Directive,[29] with which it is linked.

The Government's view

9.12 The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns) first says that the Government supports the moves to enhance the RSS Scheme and that these changes will improve the authorisation process by making it faster and more flexible. He also tells us, on the comitology timetable, that the Commission has already presented draft ideas for the enhancement of RSS to the relevant expert committee in Brussels and it is expected that revised proposals, reflecting the opinion of that committee, will be presented for adoption in late September.

9.13 Turning to development of an eManifest the Minister says that:

  • discussion about an eManifest is very much in its infancy and as yet there is no clear understanding of the exact scope and processes that the Government may be asked to support;
  • the Commission has previously stated that it would seek to develop a definition of the eManifest, meeting the requirements of Blue Belt and Single Market Act II by December, that by July 2014 it will undertake analysis of the processes to support the use of the eManifest to accommodate customs requirements and simplifications and that it proposed full implementation by mid-2015;
  • at a Commission eManifest workshop in June it was agreed that a first phase would concentrate on harmonising and standardising the requirements for an eManifest across the EU, which the Government supports;
  • no other decisions have been taken regarding extending the functionality of the eManifest to discharge other customs requirements such as Proof of Union status;
  • indeed the Commission reported to an Electronic Customs Group IT and legal meeting in early July that further work was required to confirm the process definitions;
  • some Member States, including the UK, expressed concern that the timeframe proposed was extremely tight and that no provision had yet been made by Member States to secure resource and funding for the project;
  • the Commission said that the next steps would be to publish the consolidated conclusions of the June workshop, to prepare a formal Commission working paper and to organise a further informal meeting in the autumn;
  • the Government still awaits completion of the first of these steps;
  • this Communication appears to pre-empt the discussions and next steps and sets a timescale for the implementation of something that is yet to be agreed;
  • the Government is content with the idea of agreeing a common harmonised dataset, but remains concerned that the lack of clarity around the scope of this proposal risks adding unnecessary burden to the trade if Member States implement solutions in a way that does not deliver any anticipated benefits;
  • it expects the Commission to undertake its previously stated next steps of defining a problem statement with identified scope, business processes and benefits in order to establish a firm foundation for developing this idea further;
  • as no formal requirement or scope is known and no IT solutions have been considered, lead times for IT development, including securing resources and funding in respect of a proposed mid-2015 full implementation, are believed by many Member States, including the UK to be too ambitious; and
  • the Government does not support such a short timetable.

9.14 The Minister comments that:

  • the Government will seek to get the timetable discussed at Council level, through the Transport Committee, and to have its concerns reflected in Council conclusions;
  • with the support of other Member States the Government aims to persuade the Commission that no implementation date should be agreed until the actual scope of the requirement has been finalised;
  • it is the interest of all that any implementation date is realistic and achievable by the carrier industry as well as the Member States; and
  • if the Government is unable to influence Commission thinking at this stage, it will then work with other Member States to resist this timetable during formal negotiations on the proposed legalisation.

9.15 In relation to consultation the Minister comments that none is considered necessary regarding the enhancement of the RSS Scheme as the changes will make the authorisation process quicker and more flexible for shipping services. He also says that, once there is greater clarity regarding the processes to be supported by the eManifest, then consultation with trade and key stakeholders will be required as this has potentially significant impacts upon systems and processes.

9.16 The Minister tells us that the enhancements to the RSS Scheme have no financial implications for the EU budget or for the UK. As for eManifest, he says that:

  • the Commission has added it to an existing project in its Multiannual Strategic Plan, a document used by Member States for planning purposes that outlines future changes to IT systems;
  • some IT changes to departmental and trade systems are likely to be required to implement an eManifest, whatever the scope; but
  • since the scope of changes, both legislative and technological, is still under discussion, a detailed assessment of the costs cannot be provided yet.


9.17 Whilst the Commission's Blue Belt proposals themselves seem acceptable, we note the apparently justifiable concern about the Commission's timetable for introduction of the eManifest. So we should like to hear about the outcome of the Government's efforts to have a more reasonable timetable adopted. Meanwhile the document remains under scrutiny.

23   (27648) 10954/06 + ADD 1: see HC 34-xxxvi (2005-06), chapter 1 (19 July 2006) and Stg Co Deb, European Standing Committee, 30 October 2006, cols. 3-20. Back

24   (29068) 14631/07 + ADDs 1-5: see HC 16-viii (2007-08), chapter 2 (16 January 2008) and HC Deb, 3 June 2008, cols. 713-35. Back

25   (30392) 5775/09 (30393) 5779/09: see HC 19-xi (2008-09), chapters 3 and 4 (18 March 2009) and Gen Co Debs, European Committee A, 11 May 2009, cols. 3-18  Back

26   (34297) 14536/12: see HC 86-xviii (2012-13), chapter 1 (31 October 2012) and Stg Co Debs, European Committee A, 5 December 2012, cols. 3-22. Back

27   (34262) 13908/12: see HC 86-xix (2012-13), chapter 12 (7 November 2012). Back

28   The trade body for liner shipping companies: see Back

29   (30447) 5789/09 + ADDs 1-3: see HC 19-xi (2008-09), chapter 4 (18 March 2009). Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 8 October 2013