Select Committee on European Communities Eleventh Report



Letter from Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee B, to Glenda Jackson CBE MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  The above proposal was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting this morning. The Sub-Committee, having noted your doubts about what added value would be brought about by the proposed new Decision" on consultation procedures, would welcome clarification on a number of points that arise from your EM. In particular:

   -   What existing or proposed bilateral and multilateral agreements involving the United Kingdom would be affected by the proposal?

   -   To what extent is a Member State's freedom of action curtailed in the event of a negative opinion from the Commission? Would it be prohibited as a matter of law from entering into the agreement in question?

   -   To what extent would the decision change the present position and practice regarding the ability of Member States to speak and participate in international fora on matters within their competence?

   -   Are you content that this decision can be brought forward on the basis of Article 84(2)? If so, what are the implications for other transport sectors, such as aviation?

  The Committee also noted that, according to a recent Commons Written Answer, there was a general debate" on the Commission's Communication at the last Transport Council on 17-18 June. We would be interested to know the outcome of that debate and in particular, the attitude of other Member States to the proposed Council Decision.

  We shall retain the documents under scrutiny pending your reply.

10 July 1997

Letter from Glenda Jackson CBE MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee B

  Thank you for your letter of 10th July, asking for clarification on a number of points arising from my EM of 23 May on the Commission Communication on external relations in maritime transport, and for information on the outcome of the general debate on this matter at the Transport Council on 17-18 June.

  I am responding to your points in the order set out in your letter.

  1. The proposal would not affect existing UK bilateral maritime transport agreements, and there are currently no proposals for any new agreements. The UK's general approach on bilateral maritime agreements has been not to enter into them unless there are exceptional circumstances resulting in serious problems in maritime relations (and hence we have only three agreements - with South Korea, China, and one with Russia dating from 1968). This has been based on the view that the best way to ensure the continuation of existing predominantly open international shipping trades is through broad multilateral consensus, rather than on the basis of a proliferation of bilateral agreements. The UK has not entered into multilateral maritime agreements outside of international fora nor are there currently any plans to do so.

  2. The proposed Decision provides that a bilateral maritime agreement cannot be signed if the Commission raises objections, and that the Member State shall re-negotiate the agreement in accordance with the Commission's views. This would prevent the Member State acting if the Commission objected. Accordingly the legal position seems to be that if a Member State were to sign an agreement despite Commission objections, the State would be in breach of EC law by virtue of that alone irrespective of whether the agreement did in fact contravene EC law as the Commission claimed.

  3. Under the proposed Decision, Member States would be represented at international organisations by the Presidency where competence rests with Member States, rather than member States speaking for themselves. This has already happened under existing arrangements in some instances, where a co-ordinated approach was felt necessary or desirable. This was, for instance, the approach adopted in the maritime talks at the World Trade Organisation prior to their temporary suspension until 2000. The existing arrangements have tended to work well, so the case for formalisation of them does not seem conclusive.

  The proposed Decision does not seem to envisage (and is silent on) the scenario where a Member State might wish to unilaterally sign up to an agreement inside an international organisation, contrary to the rest of the member States and the Commission. Given that the existing arrangements for co-ordinated action have worked well, it sees unlikely that such a difficult position would in practice arise. Were it to do so, I am advised that the legal position would be unclear: if could be argued that the Decision's silence on this means that the pre-existing position is unaffected and unilateral action is allowed for; conversely it could be argued that since the proposed Decision appears to remove the ability of Member States to speak separately from the Community in international organisations, it implicitly removes their ability acting alone to sign agreements in such organisations. Even under the current arrangements for maritime transport, if such a scenario were to arise there would likely to be scope for legal dispute on precisely which aspects of the agreement were with the Member State's competence and which within the Communities'.

  4. The advice I have received is that this proposal is probably within Article 84(2). There are implications for other transport sectors. Any similar proposals would have to be judged on the appropriateness of the proposal to that sector. In the case of aviation, relations with Member States and third countries are typically governed by bilateral agreements. In some cases, Council has authorised the Commission to negotiate collectively on behalf of Member States, but in other cases it has declined to do so.

  During the debate at the 17-18 June Transport Council, member States generally subscribed to the broad objectives of securing liberalisation of international shipping and non-discriminative, fair, competitive operating conditions for EU shipping in third countries. They considered that the Community probably has available sufficient legal, political and commercial powers for pursuing its shipping objectives (though there remains scope for discussion as to whether further measures might be desirable, and if so whether available powers are being used as effectively as possible). They were generally content with the present legislation, and saw no case for changing the existing arrangements for consultation on external relations issues.

17 July 1997

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1998