Friday, 16 October 2015

Law takers, not law makers

Hereabove we see the European Commission boasting of its regulatory efforts on passenger ship safety. In 1994, the casualty of the ferry Estonia in the Baltic Sea raised particular concern in the Union about the operational conditions of passenger vessels. The Community has since adopted different measures addressing this problem.

In March 1998, Directive 98/18/EC was adopted to introduce a uniform level of safety for new and existing passenger ships and high speed passenger craft engaged on domestic voyages by harmonising safety standards. It incorporated the provisions of IMO's SOLAS convention for the Safety of Life at Sea by establishing detailed technical requirements which focus on vessel construction, stability, fire protection and life-saving equipment. It has been modified several times to reflect developments in the SOLAS Convention and to include specific access and public information requirements for persons with reduced mobility or disabilities.

The original Directive and its modifications were consolidated and codified in Directive 2009/45/EC, which has since been updated by Commission Directive 2010/36/EC.

Again this is another example of the EU being law takers, not law makers, implementing international conventions to the letter. SOLAS is not some generic statement of aims. The SOLAS Convention in its successive forms is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of ships.

The first version was adopted in 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster, the second in 1929, the third in 1948, and the fourth in 1960. The 1974 version includes the tacit acceptance procedure - which provides that an amendment shall enter into force on a specified date unless, before that date, objections to the amendment are received from an agreed number of Parties. As a result the 1974 Convention has been updated and amended on numerous occasions. The Convention in force today is sometimes referred to as SOLAS, 1974, as amended.

One issue raised following the Estonia tragedy was to ensure that ro-ro passenger ships had sufficient stability following damage. The Stockholm Agreement of 1996, a regional intergovernmental agreement involving seven Member States and Norway, required additional measures for new and existing ro-ro passenger ships to address the destabilizing effects of the accumulation of water on the vehicle deck. Directive 2003/25/EC and Directive 2003/24/EC, adopted on 14 April 2003, applied these measures to all such vessels throughout the Union engaged on both international and domestic voyages. The measures were later extended by Commission Directive 2005/12/EC to include a new model test method as defined in the IMO Resolution MSC 141 (76) on 5 December 2002.

Here is a prime example of Norway having a seat at the top table to address its own concerns and protect its own safety interests. Britain on the other hand, an island nation somewhat renowned for its seafaring habits does not get an independent voice nor a veto, and must first consult the many landlocked nations of the EU in order to advance its own interests.

Many intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) have concluded agreements with the IMO, including the European Commission, which negotiates on our behalf and by way of having observer status we are forced to vote for the common EU position. What's interesting from that link is that the convention is an agreement of trade associations, NGOs and a number of non-geographically based trading blocs. That is the present and the future, not the EU. In that we need to shorten the chain of accountability and cut out the middlemen.

There is an assumption among europhiles that outside the EU we would lose influence and would not have stringent safety regulations. Here we have Norway at the very top table with its own voice and its own veto coming to the international forum to insist on tougher regulation, exercising that national sovereignty thing. In light of our own Townsend Thoresen disaster, it is likely we would have done likewise. We would now have to ask the EU nicely.

It is as we have always said. The EU is not the top table, it doesn't make the rules, we have more influence outside of the EU - and there is a danger of not getting the best to advance our unique needs as an island nation by way of deferring to nations who do not share those interests. There is a very real risk of being held to ransom by landlocked states over matters not pertaining to maritime safety.

Intergovernmentalism clearly works better than surpranationalism in this context, and we would be in a far stronger position being able to choose which alliances we wish to side with at the top tables. Europhiles need to explain why it is better that an alliance of tiny third rate Caribbean islands has a full vote at the top international tables, but Britain does not.

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