Vice-President and Commissioner for Transport
Blue Belt – cutting red tape for ships in EU waters
I would like to thank the Presidency for organising this discussion. We all tend to forget that 90% of European external trade and 40% of EU internal trade are carried by shipping. At the same time, seaborne transport is a great source of growth potential in the EU: 1 job aboard a vessel means 9 jobs on land. Many European companies are world leaders in marine and ship technology.
However, maritime is the mode of transport where the EU's internal market has not yet been completed. So far, the situation has been that once a vessel leaves an EU port, it was impossible to determine where it went, what it did, what ports were visited and whether the cargo carried came from the EU. As a result, a vessel leaving or entering an EU port, regardless of origin or destination, had to undergo checks as if it had been coming from, or going outside, the EU. This leads to delays, administrative formalities, duplication of uncoordinated checks. This all adds costs and reduces the competitiveness of maritime transport. So far, only limited simplifications in customs clearance have been introduced.
We need to remember that a vessel is subject to several different checks– customs, phytosanitary, immigration, etc. – some relate to the cargo carried, some to the crew, and some relate to the vessel's safety and environmental performance.
We have to work towards creating a situation where vessels and cargo, while meeting the required standards for safety, security and customs, can move between EU ports with minimum administrative controls. Modern technologies allow vessels to be tracked at any time when while they are at sea. The European SafeSeaNet system allows Member States to exchange information on vessel positions reliably and instantaneously.
This is why, following discussions under the Belgian Presidency, I asked the European Maritime Safety Agency to launch a pilot project to demonstrate to national customs administrations how information on vessel voyages provided by SafeSeaNet can help them do their work in such a way as to limit the administrative burden for maritime transport.
The pilot project ended at the end of last year and a final report was published in May 2012. This report clearly shows that it is possible to provide accurate and timely information to customs about vessel voyages. It also shows that this information can be the basis for risk assessment and support the customs authorities in making decisions on the procedures they apply.
Allow me now to express my gratitude to EMSA for its efficient management of the project. I would like to thank the nearly 430 national customs authorities involved, and, last but not least, also the industry – the European Community Shipowners' Association and World Shipping Council whose member companies offered 253 vessels to take part in the pilot.
The time has now come to move to the next stage. I would like to thank the Danish Presidency for the excellent discussion note. And I would like to respond to the Presidency's questions with the following ideas:
It is essential that the Blue Belt Pilot service becomes permanent and expands gradually to all vessels that move between EU ports and carry goods in the EU maritime internal market. We will need to consider what possible adjustments or amendments are needed in EU law to allow information generated by SafeSeaNet to be provided continuously and reliably. This is a precondition and will allow the relevant authorities to simplify their inspection procedures when information provided through Blue Belt confirms that vessels moved within the EU.
Together with Commissioner Šemeta, in charge of customs, we will be looking into the possibility of soon allowing changes in customs checks for vessels whose EU route is confirmed by SafeSeaNet, and where the cargo's origin and destination can be easily identied by electronic documents which are interoperable with customs and maritime authorities' systems.
Let me also assure you that we will work to make the best use of existing solutions to ensure maximum cost-effectiveness, and do this as soon as possible. We will analyse the legislation that is now in force to see whether Blue Belt information could allow different authorities to change the inspection procedures applied to vessels when they move between EU ports and if there is EU cargo on board. Again, this is an area that goes beyond maritime transport, and I will discuss it with my colleagues. I firmly believe that if we do not take this next step, then the internal market for shipping will never become a reality.
Finally, allow me to address the Danish Presidency's last question. Eighteen months ago, a Directive on reporting formalities for vessels was adopted. This very ambitious piece of legislation envisages that, in 2015, vessels entering EU ports will provide the required information electronically and using a single window so that it can be shared between relevant authorities. Once implemented, the directive will significantly change not only how vessels communicate with ports but also what different authorities do with the information received.
I would like to applaud the efforts currently underway in all MS to implement this complex directive, and I am also happy to see the excellent cooperation with my services and EMSA to assist you in these efforts.
However, we also need to consider how we can open up this system to other users – ports, shipping companies, logistics operators. We should soon start discussing whether some changes to the directive can be introduced to create a well-connected system of information relevant to maritime transport – e-Maritime system – which will be useful for vessels, authorities, and companies involved in maritime transport.
I am looking forward to hearing your views and ideas about how to turn the Blue Belt pilot project into a true European Maritime Transport Space without barriers.