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EU meeting ends in acrimony

EU meeting ends in acrimony
A meeting of European Union transport ministers ended in acrimony today amid allegations Brussels law-makers were seeking to bankrupt small ferry companies.

A meeting of European Union transport ministers ended in acrimony today amid allegations Brussels law-makers were seeking to bankrupt small ferry companies.

A meeting of European Union transport ministers ended in acrimony today amid allegations Brussels law-makers were seeking to bankrupt small ferry companies.

Maritime nations spoke out against planned legislation for compensating ferry and cruise passengers, but their protests were ignored by the Swedish EU presidency.

Greece, Italy and Malta said they opposed the proposal on the grounds that passengers buying tickets for just a few euros would be entitled to compensation and accommodation worth up to ?120 ($177). ?We cannot support this proposal,? said Greece. ?This is a way of bankrupting small companies,? said Malta.

The Italian delegation pointed out that passengers buying tickets to the islands close to the mainlands pay less than ?5. ?There should be no reimbursement of ?120,? it said. The ferry industry should not be regulated along the same lines as the airline industry, the Italian delegation argued, because of the small distances involved.

But the Swedes, who chair the rotating EU presidency, brushed these arguments aside, declaring the Council had come to a ?political agreement?. In diplomatic speak this meant the maritime nations had been outvoted under the EU"s qualified majority voting rules.

The Swedes and the European Commission claimed protests were unjustified. EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani said the Maltese concerns were addressed in a clause introducing a E10 threshold per ticket for compensation.

?The Greeks were not happy with the outcome because they lost their amendment introducing a clause introducing an "extraordinary circumstances" exmeption,? said a presidency source.

Whereas exemptions to compensation and assistance to passengers were agreed in cases of bad weather, the Greeks wanted an extra clause allowing national cabotage companies to redirect ferries from one island to another for other, non-defined reasons.

In a see-saw Council session lasting longer than predicted, the Greeks won their exemption early in the day only to lose it just before the close of play. The Greeks were out-manoeuvred by the commission and by France, which opposed exemptions, according to the presidency source. ?It is hard to say no to a big member state,? he said.

Other amendments exempting vessels under a certain size and delaying the application of the EU regulation by several years resulted in a complex text which will now be the subject of negotiations with the European parliament.

The presidency insisted disagreement only related to assistance to passengers whose sailing would be delayed by a day, meaning ferry operators would need to provide free hotel accommodation. ?The Maltese objection was incorrect,? said the presidency.

But protests within the Council centred on the entire compensation regime, including ticket refunds.

Observers were left with the impression Council participants did not really understand the text they were debating. ?It has been a long time since breakfast,? said the Swedish Council chairwoman when drawing the Luxembourg meeting to a close.

www.TurkishMaritime.com.tr

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