EU again asks Greece to deregulate coastal shipping

In a second warning letter, dated April 19, the European Commission called on the Greek government to fully deregulate the domestic sea transport sector, and recognized the right of companies to determine the number of seamen working on each vessel, depending on the time period and the number of economy-class passengers. In the letter, the Commission argues that the Greek authorities’ interpretation of the concept of crew composition is restrictive and constitutes an impediment to shipping companies regarding the way they intend to provide their services to users. This position effectively vindicates coastal shipping companies, which have long asked for the right to determine the number of crew depending on season, company requirements and the services they wish to provide. For its part, the Merchant Marine Ministry considers crew composition a serious political and social issue. «The interpretation adopted by the Greek authorities to the issue of crew composition reflects their desire to secure safety in navigation and the employment of Greek seamen,» a ministry source said. In another issue raised in the letter, the Commission also disputes the compatibility with Community legislation of Greek Presidential Decree 101/95, which deals with matters of accommodation, ratios of economy-class passengers, and items sold in canteens and their prices. In its first warning letter, dated February 3, 2004, the Commission asked Greece to amend points in Law 2932/2001 which required coastal shipping operators to maintain public utility standards on all routes, to furnish letters of guarantee for such services, and to ensure that all crew members spoke Greek. Also, it wants foreign-based coastal shipping operators to appoint representatives and open offices in Greece, and that vessels in service be subject to an age limit. «I am certain that the government is aware of the seriousness of the situation, and will proceed directly to amend Law 2932/2001 and clarify what free competition means and where the state has the right to intervene to ensure the provision of a public service,» said New Democracy party MP Miltiades Varvitsiotis. Separately, the Commission renewed until April 25, 2010 a block exemption allowing shipping companies to enter into consortium agreements covering the maritime transport of cargo to or from one or more EU ports. The block exemption, first adopted in 1995 and renewed in 2000, automatically covers liner shipping consortia which have a market share below 30 percent. Under the relevant regulation, all agreements (except those on price fixing) whose objective is the joint operation of liner shipping services are exempted from the Maastricht treaty’s ban on restrictive business practices (Article 81), provided they fulfill the conditions and obligations in the regulation. The exemption does not cover the transport of passengers.

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