LeaveHQ, 10/11/2015  

The UK’s £10bn shipping industry has called the push toward closer union in Europe "distracting" and told the European Commission (EC) to stop interfering with the sector's globally produced regulations.

This is from that UK Chamber of Shipping (CS), which has said that rules devised on a global scale have helped to create a level playing field among competing firms. But it now says that, "the UK shipping industry has faced legislative proposals from the EC which reflect little understanding of the industry and how it is regulated".

The detail comes from a report in City AM, but it is unlikely to register with the wider media or in the Brexit debate. Even for grown-ups, people who are actually interested in politics and the business of government, this is a dry topic. And such people do not reside in the SW1 bubble.

Nevertheless, if you've been following Pete North's blog or have read Flexcit, this finding is not news. The EU is not the driver of single market rules, and the EU is not in fact the single market. Increasingly, the EU is a law taker, not a law maker

Despite that, the EU still occupied our seat on many of the international bodies from which so much regulation originates, and it votes on our behalf. but, far from advancing our interests or looking to wield greater influence in the common good, the EU cannot break out of its own myopic fixations. 

What is particularly interesting, though, is that there is general agreement that the EU does not perform a useful role at global level. British representatives of the maritime industry, for instance, thought that the Commission's representation at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) actually interfered with the UK's ability to act effectively. 

Not least of the problems was the EU's tendency to "Europeanise" global standards by adding its own requirements. As a global industry, they felt, shipping should be regulated at the global level, without sub-regional add-ons. As such, the UK Chamber of Shipping feels there is no advantage in the EU having a greater say in IMO under the present circumstances or in the foreseeable future. 

Another interested party, Lloyd's Register, explains why the EU performs so badly. Its problem is that it is not a "flag". This means that the Commission does not have international treaty obligations to treaty parties in the maritime world. The UK is a "flag" and does have international treaty obligations. 

As a result, while the European Commission may take decisions "for the good of the Union", the practical consequences fall on the flag states. Those states, rather than the Union, should make the decisions.

But there are other problems arising from the EU's semi-detached status. It attempts to forge common positions in IMO negotiations are often counterproductive, making it harder to achieve desirable outcomes. It looks after its own interests while individual Member States try to work with a broader range of IMO member nations towards agreed and workable international rules. 

Another issue is that the EU should avoid another bad habit - glod-plating rules agreed internationally. Creating slightly different regional EU rules, with all the add-ons - can cause a loss of competitiveness in the global market.

Then there is yet another problem. EU officials, in the highly technical area of shipping are, to coin a phrase, out of their depth. They simply do not have the expertise needed to make useful contributions. Therefore, Member States and industry stakeholders should take the lead. 

One participant at a workshop in Brussels commented that putting forward bloc views to a technical body like the IMO risked politicisation of the debate and could detract from the quality of technical decision-making because an open exchange of views based on technical and expert opinion is curtailed.


Some industry members thus found it difficult to identify any benefit for the UK in the event of either the EU having a greater say in negotiating international agreements at the IMO, or greater coordination of Member States' positions.  In effect, the action of the EU in interposing itself between member states, or representing them in negotiations, was not helpful.


This leaves maritime industry stakeholders unhappy about the European Commission representing all EU Member States in either the IMO or ILO. As with the Norwegians on their Codex committee, they take the view that member states were more effective when acting individually. As long as the EU is not a sovereign state, negotiations on global bodies between sovereign states should exclude the EU.


Some of the problems stemmed from the fact that the European Commission only had observer status at the IMO. Membership of such bodies generally comprised sovereign states, and the EU could not qualify for membership without these organisations changing their constitutions. This aspiration was currently unrealistic and was not supported by industry – and therefore was unlikely to happen. No short-term improvement could thus be anticipated.


This industry sector, therefore, suggests that there are occasions when the UK is better off in the international arena as an independent player. As much as we need to be robust in maintaining an independent position, we should also seek to restrain EU influence on such bodies, unless it is tactically appropriate to allow it to play a part. 

In the brave new, post-exit world, however, this should not preclude the UK forming ad hoc alliances with the EU. As we have argued, Brexit does not mean an end to cooperation with the EU. It just gives us the freedom to choose - which is not exactly too much to ask.

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