Following the European elections of June 2004, the newly elected European Parliament held its first plenary session from 20 to 22 July. During this session, MEPs formally approved the nomination by the European Council of Portugal's Jose Manuel Durao Barrosso as Romano Prodi's successor as European Commission President.
The key institutional change on the maritime front is that the former "RETT" Committee of the European Parliament ("Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism) has been split into two separate committees, Transport and Tourism on the one hand, and Regional Policy on the other. This is a positive development for the shipping industry as one can expect members of the new Transport and Tourism Committee to be more specialised and focused on transport issues. This new setting will in any case bring more coherence and consistency to the Committee's debates.
At its first meeting, the Committee elected Italian Liberal Paolo Costa as its chairman. Key position on the Committee is that of rapporteur (on proposed legislation) for the European Parliament. A couple of former rapporteurs, well-known to INTERTANKO, have remained on the Transport Committee, including in particular Dirk Sterckx, former rapporteur for the MARE Committee.
While there are no Cypriot or Maltese MEPs in the new Committee, there are several new MEPs from Lithuania and Poland (including a vice-President of the Committee) who, according to informal sources, are likely to be interested in the maritime industry's point of view.
As regards the new Commission, a few names are circulating for the position of Transport Commissioner. Former Dutch Minister for Transport, Neelie Kroes, might be awarded the role, as might former British Minister for Trade and Industry Peter Mandelson. However, diplomats have until 20 August to negotiate the allocation of Commissioners, which will be followed a week later by their formal appointment by the Commission President Jose Manuel Barrosso. After hearing each Commissioner in the European Parliament in the early autumn, the new Commission will be able to start its legislative programme, officially as of 1 November 2004. Among the issues the new Commission will have to tackle is the package of measures on maritime safety, expected by the end of the year.