If the European Commission goes ahead with its plans to apply for EU membership of the International Maritime Organization, it might leave maritime countries such as Malta with no other option but to toe the line of Brussels in the future.
Lloyd’s List reports that the European Commission believes it does not require the approval of EU member states to apply for EU membership of the IMO.
The revelation came as the Brussels executive put new pressure on recalcitrant maritime nations which have until now resisted any change within IMO.
Malta, Greece and Cyprus – big maritime names though political minnows within the EU – believe their voices would be drowned out if the EU talks with one voice within the world’s premier maritime law-making body.
They fear that this will force them to toe the EU line when IMO rules are drawn up would lead to a significant shift of power from national capitals to Brussels.
Currently, the European commission, not the EU, has IMO observer status.
Prior to IMO meetings the commission co-ordinates the positions of EU member states in informal meetings on maritime issues where Brussels has competence, though there is no requirement countries tow the line once in London.
Formalising this process would increase pressure on capitals to abide by the majority view and would give the commission, as chair, more political weight.
If the commission does put an EU membership application to the council of ministers, as now seems likely, Europe’s maritime nations might well be out-voted, the commission source implied. “We would not need unanimity, just a qualified majority,” he said.
Those outvoted under the EU’s complex qualified majority rules would have to implement the decision.
Constitutional lawyers within the commission have advised senior officials that approval of the EU council of ministers, the body representing member states, is not necessary for changing membership status, contrary to what was widely believed.
“We have taken advice, and the legal services say we don’t need approval, though politically speaking, it’s probably best if we get it,” a senior official said. “It’s such a sensitive subject.”
The ‘Maritime Transport Strategy 2009-2018’ document reads: ‘For the EU member states to act as an efficient team that can rely on strong individual players, requires enhancing the recognition and visibility of the EU within the IMO by formalising the EU co-ordination mechanism and granting formal observer status, if not full membership, to the EU within this organisation.’
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