The shipping laws and policies of the European Community comprise the aggregate of all rules and regulations relating to the conduct of shipping and related maritime affairs within the community . These reflect the nature and degree of importance of shipping to the European Community, which constitutes the biggest trading bloc in the world. Its interest in developing shipping laws and policies, as related to maritime law, lies in the concentration of its trading activities by sea, with 90 percent of external and internal trade passing through its maritime route, at least percent of which constitutes trade among the member states.
In addition, the members of the European Community, taken together, control a coastline double the width of Russia’s coast and thrice the coast of the United States. Its concerns also extend to issues of maritime security and environmental safety . Moreover, the European Community hosts around 350 million passengers and millions of tons in cargo passing through its 1,200 ports. Shipping by sea constitutes a major industry creating employment as well as generating income. Nevertheless, despite the current importance of shipping to the European Community , shipping laws and policies comprise relatively new developments.
It was only during the 1970s, the European Community embarked to develop community-wide laws covering shipping. Efforts led to an EC shipping law in 1986 comprised of four regulations comprising the framework of shipping law. These regulations encompassed issues on competition and anti-trust, maritime safety, ports and employment, and environment aspects. In application, the essence of shipping law in the EC is to ensure the freedom of ship owners based in member-states of the EC to provide shipping services to other member states within the assumption of mutual benefit from membership of the European Community .
Controversies surrounding the EC shipping laws and regulations revolve around the developments in competitive provisions and the implications to member states and to external parties. Provisions under shipping law covering competition supports market rivalry . This is also termed as anti-trust provisions . The fierce competition in the global shipping industry and the intention of EC to develop its shipping capabilities to compete better led to two way laws and policies on shipping.
On one hand is the freedom to provide shipping services by shipping companies based in member states. On the other hand is the implementation of a certain degree of protectionism relative to third party industry players. However, it is also interesting to note that as of October 2008, the EC has repealed Regulation 4056/86, which allowed exemption from the prohibition against anti-competitive arrangements of liner conferences . This means the adoption of a more competitive policy applicable to member states relative to external third parties.