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February 18, 2003

De Palacio spells out EC priorities
Don't cherish any illusions that the Europeans are going to quietly let IMO deal with post-Prestige proposals to accelerate the phase out of single hull tankers. In a speech yesterday, European Commissioner Loyola de Palacio indicated that while IMO might be the right place to deal with U.S. concerns about container security, the EC was prepared to act unilaterally on tanker safety issues.Loyola de Palacio

"I truly believe that the time has now come to challenge the fundamentals of international shipping law, adjusting them to the new geo-political environment and technological developments," declared de Palacio. "The European Union should become the protagonist of this change."

De Palacio, the Commissioner for Transport and Energy, was speaking at the opening of a Brussels exhibition.

Discussing EU maritime policy objectives, de Palacio, said that the current focus was primarily on safety. The Prestige spill was "a cruel reminder of the need for action."

She noted that following the Prestige accident and at the unanimous request of the EU Council of Ministers, the Commission had reacted quickly and submitted a draft regulation to speed up the timetable for phasing out single hull tankers and to ban the transport of heavy fuel oil in single hull tankers.

De Palacio offered a hint of hope to bunker barge operators, most of whose present fleet would be prevented from operating under the Commission's proposals as drafted. She said that "during the legislative process, we are ready to take into account, if well justified, elements in order not to affect trade and to guarantee security of supply. For example, we are ready to find a solution for small oil tankers.

De Palacio conceded that "generally speaking, these issues are best addressed at global level in the context of IMO." But she made it clear that the Commission is determined to impelement its agenda, declaring that "in this specific case, only firm and decisive actions at EU level will influence the discussions in this organization. In a more general tone, I truly believe that the time has now come to challenge the fundamentals of international shipping law, adjusting them to the new geo-political environment and technological developments. The European Union should become the protagonist of this change."

Turning to maritime security, she said it was the Commission's "strong belief that the right way to proceed against terrorism is through agreements widely supported by the international community."

"Again here, the European Union must be united vis-a-vis our trade partners and in the context of IMO. I have to be frank with you. I am preoccupied by the U.S. unilateral measures such as the Container Security Initiative. These measures will inevitably result in delays in the logistics chain and distortions of competition between European ports," she said. This was why she was pushing for a bilateral agreement between the EU and the U.S. on this issue.

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