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EC Questions Spanish, Italian Maritime Procedures

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

14 October 2009

The European has begun infringement proceedings against Italy and Spain with regards to the two countries’ failure to adequately implement EU legislation on port state control of shipping, and on the free movement of workers, respectively.

On October 8, the Commission announced that it had referred its case against Italy to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The Commission considers that Italy has failed to correctly implement the Directive on port state control of shipping, adopted in 1995, which aims to reduce substandard shipping in Community waters by promoting compliance with international and Community legislation on maritime safety, by establishing common criteria for control of ships by the port state, and by harmonizing procedures on inspection and detention.

The Commission decided to refer the case on the basis of the findings by the European Maritime Safety Agency during an inspection visit in Italy. This visit is part of a monitoring program by the Commission designed to assess how the Directive is implemented in practice in each Member State. Irregularities concern failure by Italian authorities to charge full re-inspection costs of detained ships to ship-owners and operators or their representatives.

In the case against Spain, the Commission has decided to take legal action against the country’s failure to comply with an ECJ ruling on November 20, 2008, on the nationality condition to become a master or chief mate on ships flying the Spanish flag. The ruling followed similar ECJ judgments against France in March 2008 and against Italy in September 2008 confirming its initial jurisprudence of 2003 on this question. The Commission has sent Spain a letter of formal notice under Article 228 of the EC Treaty over the country's failure to follow a court ruling last year that current Spanish rules violate EC rules on free movement of workers. Article 228 states that a country must take all measures necessary to comply with a court ruling which finds that it has failed to meet its obligations under Community law.

In a statement, Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, said: "Free movement of workers is a founding principle of the EU which ensures people are not discriminated against on the basis of nationality when moving around Europe. The [ECJ] has already ruled against the existing Spanish rules on this issue and Spain now needs to bring them fully into line with EU norms and guarantee other EU workers are not being discriminated against."

The Spanish authorities are now in the process of reforming their rules, but have not yet adopted the necessary changes. The Commission has therefore decided to open new infringement proceedings and made clear that it will not be able to close the case before all necessary rules have been adopted. Spain now has two months to present its observations.

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