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EU: Transport Council

Volume 687: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2006

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Dr Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I will attend the second Transport Council of the Finnish presidency, which takes place in Brussels on 11 and 12 December. The council will be asked to agree conclusions on the Commission communication, presented to the council in June, on its mid-term review of the programme for the promotion of short sea shipping (any maritime journey within or between member states or a close third country, e.g. Norway). This is a priority of the Finnish presidency. The programme was presented in 2003. It contains 14 different actions ranging from identifying bottlenecks that impede the smooth operation of short sea shipping to streamlining procedures through the setting up of short sea shipping promotion centres and legislative measures. The UK achieved all its negotiating objectives for inclusion in the draft conclusions.

The council will aim to reach a general approach on a directive amending the current EU provisions on port state control (examination of ships in port). This will bring about consolidation of the current directive and its subsequent amendments into a single text. The new directive will also ensure more precise targeting of ships for inspection, resulting in more effective use of resources, and provide for the refusal of access to EU ports of ships that are repeatedly found to be substandard.

There will be a progress report on the regulation on liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents. This aims to incorporate the Athens convention relating to the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea of 1974, as amended by its protocol of 2002, into Community legislation. It also extends these provisions to the carriage by sea within the member states and to international and domestic carriage by inland waterways. We can accept this general aim, but we, like a number of other member states, oppose application to domestic sea journeys or to inland waterways.

As the final maritime item on its agenda, the council will aim to reach a general approach on a proposal for a decision concerning the ratification by EU member states of the 2006 consolidated maritime labour convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The convention aims to promote decent living and working conditions for seafarers and fairer competition conditions for operators and ship owners. The UK supports the proposal.

The Commission will give a further report on progress in the PPP concession contract negotiations for the Galileo satellite navigation programme. We continue to examine the emerging deal very carefully for its justification in terms of value for money, affordability, and risk to the public sector. The Commission is also expected to report on the latest position in its consideration of the potential roles and the terms of any future relations with non-EU countries in the Galileo programme and on its new Green Paper on Galileo applications.

Over lunch, Ministers will discuss the member states' bids for location of the Galileo Supervisory Authority (GSA). The UK's bid is for Cardiff and we continue to lobby in favour of it.

The council will aim to agree conclusions on the Commission's communication on freight transport logistics, entitled Freight Logistics in Europe—Key to Sustainable Mobility. The communication was presented to the council in October. The Commission plans to present an action plan for freight transport logistics in 2007. Logistics are Finland's central presidency priority in the transport field. The UK supports this initiative from the Commission and the proposal to develop an action plan.

The council will aim to reach a general approach on a directive on retrofitting of blind-spot mirrors to heavy goods vehicles larger than 3.5 tonnes registered in the Community. The UK supports the objectives of this proposal, which would extend the provisions of a type-approval directive adopted in 2003 (for new trucks) to the existing fleet. Approximately 30 per cent of current HGVs in the UK will be exempt on age grounds. The age of the affected fleet, together with the date of implementation, has to be agreed, as does the issue of the possible inclusion of front blind-spot mirrors for the largest of vehicles.

The Commission will give further progress reports on two aspects of aviation external relations on which it has been given mandates to negotiate agreements: with the US on a comprehensive air transport treaty, and with Russia on payments for Siberian overflights.

The council will be asked to adopt a mandate authorising the Commission to open air transport negotiations with Ukraine.

The council will aim to reach a general approach on a regulation amending Regulation 1592/2002, which established a framework for aviation safety regulation built around the European Aviation Safety Agency. The amending proposals extend the regulation's scope to cover safety standards and licensing of operations and their personnel, and the safety oversight of third-country operators. We were concerned during negotiations to ensure that the extension of tasks to the agency matches its fitness to carry them out and that the proposals should not impose restrictions on non-EU airlines contrary to international obligations or member states' interests.

Under AOB there will be reports on the EU-Russia transport dialogue and on the ministerial conference on road safety held in Verona on 3 and 4 November.