New EU Commissioner Sets Shipping Agenda

By MarEx 2014-10-27 18:47:00

Op-Ed by Simon Bergulf, head of Brussels Representation, Danish Shipowners' Association

The Juncker Commission is the European Commission that will be in office from November 2014 until 2019. Its president is Jean-Claude Juncker. The new European Commission transport commissioner, Violeta Bulc from Slovenia, both praises European shipping and sets new requirements for it.

Following the latest hearings of the Commissioner-candidates, it is clear that the Juncker Commission will not only introduce a new hierarchy among the commissioners (with seven vice-presidents), but also a new focus and guiding principle in all policies.

The former president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, was criticized for lack of vision during his ten years at the helm of the EU. The southern member states claim that President Barroso did not do enough during the financial crisis and only put forward a patchwork of national rescue plans, while growing Euroscepticism emerged in the North, where the commission is often criticized for exceeding its mandate and not respecting the Subsidiarity Principle – the principle of taking decisions at the lowest possible administrative and political level, and as close to the citizens as possible.

Perhaps Mr. Barroso should have listen to Bill Cosby, who said: "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." He will probably be remembered as a pleasant person, but hardly as a strong Commission President.

His successor, Jean-Claude Juncker, has demonstrated a different approach from the offset. He is far from being the favorite candidate of all member states, which is actually a good sign. He was quickly put under pressure by France and the United Kingdom, and overcame the criticism elegantly by giving both countries' commissioners the responsibility for the issue which would undoubtedly be most difficult for them to sell "nationally". The British commissioner, Jonathan Hill, has been given responsibility for the financial sector (the City of London is fighting against the rules Hill must defend), and the Pierre Moscovici (former French finance minister) was appointed commissioner for economic and financial affairs, taxation and customs and must ensure that member states' budgets are kept under control (France is the worst pupil in the class in this area).

The commissioners hearings have clearly shown that all the candidates are singing from the same hymn-sheet: the EU must emerge from the crisis and this will only be secured through growth, increased employment and making the right investments. Violeta Bulc, the forthcoming transport commissioner, mentioned several times during her hearing that sectors such as maritime transport have enjoyed incredible growth in Europe over the last decade, but do not contribute enough to employment, particularly among young people and women.

Juncker has also hauled shipowners over the coals, putting them in the same category as financial speculators. As it often happens unfortunately, the entire industry is paying for the negative reputation of a small parts of the industry.

At EU level, maritime transport is likely to continue to be under huge pressure from environmental legislation. But in addition to this, the next five years will also see increased focus on the shipping companies' role in the social and employment field. The European social dialogue, where sectorial representatives of the social partners meet regularly, will undoubtedly be key here. We can therefore only be pleased that the commission has repeatedly highlighted the dialogue in our sector as a prime example of good and constructive cooperation at EU level.

Bulc and Juncker also want to ensure that EU investments (for example in infrastructure through the TEN-T program) deliver, which was not the case with the at times anti-competitive and short-termist Marco Polo program. This program has now been discontinued and transport commissioner Bulc has made it very clear that the EU demands a return on investment from its future subsidies.

Over the next five years, the new transport commissioner would like to balance the EU’s strong ambitions for shipping with what one could call the "double subsidiarity principle", whereby some things are best handled at national level (such as employment rights) and other things best at international level (for example on the environmental and climate front).

Bulc and Juncker will have to operate in the grey area between national and international. This is an area which is growing and where the EU’s ambition and capacity of placing important issues on everyone's agenda must not be underestimated.