Cutting red tape in shipping: a far cry from stated intentions

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cutting red tapeThe European Commission recently released a report on the progress made towards simplifying administrative formalities for ships calling EU ports.
In 2009, the European Commission had produced a maritime strategy paper that included a new concept, the so-called “European Maritime Transport Space without Barriers”, which according to the Commission, would simplify and streamline administrative procedures for shipping.

On the basis of this new concept, the EU adopted in 2010 the Reporting Formalities Directive (2010/65/EU), which foresees that, by June 2015, ships calling ports in a certain member State would have to send the data required by national authorities in electronic format and only once. This would dramatically reduce red tape and allow seafarers to spend less time on duplicative and redundant bureaucracy.

However, the problem lies with the fact that EU Member States only have the obligation to move from a paper environment to a Single Window (an electronic single entry point for all information), whereas the task of ensuring that the systems put in place are compatible and harmonised is entrusted to the Commission. The main conclusion of the report is that the implementation of the Directive is both behind schedule and, more importantly, off course. The multitude of actors involved in the process, the varying starting points and the lack of common definitions and coordination seriously jeopardise harmonisation of the National Single Windows.

“Unfortunately the discussions on the need for a common system throughout the EU have not produced encouraging results and we are now faced with a situation whereby shipowners might have to cope with a mosaic of new heterogeneous electronic reporting systems. In other words, they might have to invest in costly electronic equipment without any simplification or streamlining of the reporting procedures in exchange” said Patrick Verhoeven, ECSA Secretary-General.

“This situation is incongruous and puzzling as the entire purpose of this initiative was to provide the industry with real simplification, which would reduce costs, rather than investing in new systems with no discernable or tangible return. Europe does not need a medley of National Single Windows. It needs a European Single Window, or, at the very least, uniformity and harmonisation”.

One of the major stumbling blocks in the pursuit of administrative simplifications to shipowners is the stalemate of the Blue Belt, the purpose of which is to ease customs formalities for intra-EU shipping as well as for ships calling third-country ports. In its Blue Belt Communication published last year, the Commission identifies the need for a eManifest, an electronic document containing the bulk of the required information, which would be lodged in the National Single Windows. Unfortunately, discussions between the responsible Commission services have failed to reach a compromise, and the proposal for a harmonised eManifest seems to have been put on hold.

“We are puzzled to note that an essential tool to create an internal market for shipping by allowing us to compete on an equal footing with other modes of transport has found itself in the crossfire between Commission services, thus completely ignoring the policy objectives outlined in previous Commission Communications” remarked Mr Verhoeven.

“The progress made is a far cry from the Commission’s stated intentions. We hope that common sense will ultimately prevail and that the Commission will, as soon as possible, revive the discussions on an emanifest so that shipping can also benefit from the advantages of the EU’s internal market” he conluded.