Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


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

  In November 2005 I submitted a partial regulatory impact assessment and updated you on progress with this directive. I am now writing to report the results of the first reading vote in the European Parliament and to provide some thoughts on the next steps with this contentious dossier.

  Following an inconclusive vote in the European Parliament's Transport Committee on 22 November, MEPs remitted the Commission's original unamended proposal for a decision in the European Parliament (EP) Plenary. Whether intentionally or not, the Committee voted to reject, as a whole, all of the individual amendments they had painstakingly agreed. As a result the Parliament was faced with voting on a text with which a number of significant EP committees, many MEPs, Council and organised labour had serious reservations. Consequently, against the backdrop of 6,000 protesting dock workers the EP voted to reject this directive for the second time in three years, this time by 532 to 120.

  Notwithstanding rejection of this directive, many MEPs have now demanded alternative legislation on transparency and fair competition in ports.

  Transport Commissioner Barrot has yet to announce his next move, but there is a strong probability that he will ask the College of Commissioners to agree to a formal withdrawal of the directive. Immediately following the vote he made a statement in which he asserted that the underlying motivation for the Directive (the Lisbon agenda for economic reform) remained. He hinted that he would now seek to "redraw" EC ports policy. This would cover a broader field than the current Directive, bringing in aspects such as port charges, state aids and integration into the wider supply chain. This therefore points to a further consultation exercise, possibly via a Green Paper, later this year.

  From a UK viewpoint (as you will have gathered from our regulatory impact assessment) the proposal clearly had the potential to make a significantly adverse impact on the continuing success of the UK ports sector. You will recall the Government was concerned that proposals on port services should be realistic and proportionate, recognising the diversity of the industry and the competition that already exists, particularly between the UK and other European Ports. This proposal simply did not achieve these reasonable goals.

  We will now discuss with the Commission how they might take this forward and seek to steer them (and other Member States) away from proposals which may potentially prejudice the commercial functioning and future development of our competitive ports sector here in the UK. The elements outlined by Barrot at the European Parliament would be a useful starting point and we already have strong indications from some Member States that they wish to tread the same path in close collaboration with the UK.

  I will, of course, continue to keep you informed of developments.

24 February 2006

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