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Tuesday, October 16, 2018


For a number of years it has been known that the long-term ambition of the European Commission is for the EU as such to become a full member of various international intergovernmental organisations active in fields within which the EU has adopted substantial amounts of common legislation. Whereas such membership is already the case in the WTO, membership of the IMO as well as the aviation body ICAO have been obvious candidates. In the newly presented European Commission White Paper on transport policy these ambitions were mentioned explicitly as goals within the maritime sector. That a concrete initiative was soon to be expected was confirmed by leading European Commission officials in the European Parliament last week.

Subsequent informal contacts with the Commission services revealed that the Commission plans to put forward its proposal already before the end of the year. Briefly the Commission's plans seem to involve the following:

As the long-term objective the Commission will solicit a mandate from the European Council (Member State's governments) for negotiations to start with the aim of changing the statutes of the IMO so that regional organizations such as the EU could become full members. It is not, however, the Commission's intention to propose any changes in the distribution of votes etc. within the IMO. In other words the EU Member States would still count for 15 votes (no additional votes for the EU as such).

The main argument behind the proposal is likely to be the need for a more disciplined and coordinated approach from side of EU Member States in the IMO when dealing with issues within fields where there is EU legislation in place. The purpose of the EU membership of the IMO would therefore effectively be to pave the way for Europe speaking with one voice (the Commission's) following internal coordination in Brussels. In the wake of the Erika it is likely that the Commission will be able to give examples of how efficient such a one-voice approach could be in the future.

This could lead to other power blocks being formed with the resultant higher degree of political rather than technical discussions in IMO. The lessons of the shipping discussion in UNCTAD in the 1970 and 1980s seem not to have been learned; the number of hours wasted at the Palais des Nations in Geneva because of the country group system and the opportunities lost because of politics should not be allowed to be repeated in IMO, where more often than not the delegations try to find the optimum technical solutions and not what is most expedient politically.