EP Committees give Ports Directive thumbs down

15 September 2005

EP Committees give Ports Directive thumbs down

The European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs this morning voted by a convincing majority of 20-11 to reject the Port Services Directive. Alternative proposals to amend the text were therefore not voted on. This follows yesterday's vote from the Committee on the Internal Market, which rejected the proposed measure by a similar margin, with 23 Members voting against and three abstaining. This is far from being the end of the story, but represents a major step towards the measure's complete defeat. Or, as SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer put it: “This is to be greatly welcomed, but it doesn't mean we're quite home and dry just yet.”

Union protest

In 2003 the European Commission's first attempt to liberalise ports was blocked by firm and militant action from dock workers and a decisive vote in the European Parliament. Despite this, Transport Commissioner Loyola De Palacio then produced a new proposal which was described from all sides as worse than the original and which took no account of the Parliament's objections, leaving Members feeling affronted and angry. Moreover, there had been no discussion of or reaction to the dock workers' protests.

The lead Parliamentary Committee for the measure, the Transport Committee, will not vote until October. Under pressure from the threat of renewed action, and because there has turned out to be little support from port management for this second attempt at liberalisation, the proposal has already been substantially amended by the Parliament and Council of Ministers. So-called "self-handling", which would have allowed untrained personnel to perform potentially dangerous loading and unloading tasks, has gone. The fact that these two Committees have foregone further amendment in favour of complete rejection of the text will also have a major impact. The proposal's biggest supporters remain the centre-right Christian Democrat and Liberal political groups, the EPP and ALDE, with Dutch Christian Democrat (CDA) MEP Ria Oomen Ruyten yesterday reaffirming her commitment to the measure, the Parliament's. Rapporteur for which, Georg Jarzembowski is also from the EPP.

Erik Meijer commented, “This is to be greatly welcomed, but it doesn't mean we're quite home and dry just yet. The EPP could still, even after the Committee stage of the process, use the opportunity of the plenary vote, which will probably be in December, to try to carry the day. Together with the Liberals, they have a majority. I would say on the basis of my experience in such matters that more actions of the kind we saw last time this proposal was brought forward could influence the vote. On that occasion the second largest Parliamentary group, the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) was persuaded to oppose the measure. We need therefore to keep up the pressure and make it quite clear that this second Ports Services Directive is unacceptable.”

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