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Single maritime window: all eyes on data set as the clock ticks down

Date: 27/12/2018

European Union law-makers are in a rush to agree legislation on the maritime single window before next year's European elections bring work in the Strasbourg assembly to a halt.

A key element of their expected output is the data set that ship operators will be required to provide to national authorities ahead of calls. Today's differing data sets create administrative headaches and hamper what is supposed to be a single EU market.

The unified data set should include formalities required by the IMO's Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, the EU's own requirements, and those of national authorities.

Shipowners do not want a data set that can be freely amended by national authorities. While they admit that new elements may be required, their lobbying effort centres on the need for a "managed process" whereby there are checks - possibly by the European Commission, or a Brussels committee - to ensure amendments are strictly necessary.

National governments - and port authorities - want to maintain their "flexibility" to adjust the data set as they see fit. The European Sea Ports Organisation said in September that it supported allowing "Member States to introduce or amend data requirements as in some cases ports might need to ask additional data to respond to exceptional circumstances. In that respect, this flexibility should also be extended to individual competent authorities".

Striking the right balance on data requirements has proven difficult in the past. National governments re-interpreted and in part ignored the first European Commission attempt to legislate on a single window. As a result, it provided little or nothing in terms of trade facilitation and in some cases made matters worse. Customs authorities have also been reluctant to allow a link between any ship reporting interface and Customs declarations.

This second attempt faces another challenge: time. Work in the Council of Ministers is expected to be complete around the end of this year, while the European Parliament plenary could vote on a text in February, after which the two institutions will need to reconcile their texts, a process that can take weeks or months. 

The Parliament has until April 18, the last plenary before the election recess, to vote, though there has been talk about extra plenary meetings designed to ensure a Brexit agreement is approved.

If there is no finalised inter-institutionalised text by the recess, the new Parliament will be free to take up the previous assembly's first reading agreement if it wishes. In which case, it would have four months to complete negotiations. The assembly could also take up a transport committee text in the absence of a first reading. No time limits would apply in this case.

However, with the outcome of Parliament elections uncertain - some are predicting a wave of Euro-skeptic MEPs - there is no guarantee that a new assembly would opt to continue the past assembly's incomplete work. In which case, it would be back to square one.

The Parliament's lead negotiator, centre-right Euro MP Deirdre Clune, is said to want to skip a public debate on amendments in order to speed the legislation through, though her office would not confirm this.

Source: Maritime Watch

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