Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Stephen Ladyman MP, Minister of State, Department for Transport to the Chairman

  I am enclosing the above noted Explanatory Memoranda (not printed). I apologise for their delayed submission to the committee.

  The flag state proposal, which has yet to be discussed at either the Council or the European Parliament, raises a number of issues about the extent to which there might be a transfer of competence to the Community, which it has taken rather longer than we would have liked to resolve.

  The Government's view is that the proposed Directive goes beyond simply levering up flag State performance, as it would also bring into Community law a range of flag State responsibilities covered under international Conventions and thus transfer the competence in these areas from Member States to the Community. This is, of course, a matter for serious concern which I know your Committee will share, and we needed to thoroughly examine the extent of the competence issues raised by the proposal; and to consider, not least with lawyers, what implications it might have on the UK's influence within the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

  We have made our concerns known to the Commission. Discussions of this issue with the Commission have been a little sensitive; in brief, the Commission took the view that our concerns were based on a misunderstanding of the proposal, which they felt would have very little impact on competence. Although we felt in little doubt on the matter, in the interest of good relations we accordingly undertook to re-examine our position to ensure that our view was based on a thorough and proper understanding of the proposals and assured the Commission that we would withdraw our opposition if it proved to be unfounded. We have now completed our re-examination and remain of the same opinion. This period of consideration did, however, contribute to the delay in submitting the EM, since we naturally needed to be clear in the EM about the nature of our objections to the proposal.

  As currently presented, the proposal could limit the EU Member States' ability to work independently as flag States in IMO to enhance safety, security and protection of the marine environment. By bringing flag State responsibilities under SOLAS, MARPOL and other IMO Conventions into Community law there is a risk that individual Member States would no longer be free to speak with a national voice on those issues at IMO. The UK delegation commands a high level of respect throughout the IMO Committees, putting us in a strong position to work independently to help influence and broker agreements that satisfy both EU and influential non-EU IMO Member States, so advancing the cause of enhancing global maritime safety and environmental protection. This ability might be compromised were the proposal to be agreed in its current form.

  The period of time it has taken to clarify these issues has been further prolonged as a result of the absence of key staff on extended sick leave. This has also led to a delay in the submission of EM No. 8010/06 on the Proposal for a regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 417/2002 on the accelerated phasing in of double hull or equivalent design requirements for single hull oil tankers and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 2978/94. In expressing my regret for the fact that the EMs are being submitted so late, I would like to assure your Committee that this is not a situation that is expected to recur, and that the Department continues to be committed to effective scrutiny.

29 June 2006  

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