Strasbourg riots mar ports debate

DOCK workers clashed with French riot police outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg last night as Euro MPs prepare to vote on controversial EU plans to open up seaport services to competition.

DOCK workers clashed with French riot police outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg last night as Euro MPs prepare to vote on controversial EU plans to open up seaport services to competition.

Windows were broken and stones hurled into the courtyard of the parliament building following a march through the French city by striking dockers.

Docks across the continent including Europe's second biggest, Antwerp, and ports in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark were brought to a virtual standstill as employees vented their anger a proposals to force the ports to privatise their service.

All UK ports employers are opposed to the measures, including those in Felixstowe-Harwich, Ipswich, Lowestoft and King's Lynn.


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British port workers, who support the opposition, have not gone on strike, but have sent representatives to Strasbourg to demonstrate their opposition.

Although defeated by the European Parliament nearly three years' ago, the European Union Port Services Directive has been brought to life. It means ports which handle more than 1.5million tons of cargo or 500,000 passengers over a three year period would be required to put all port services out to tender.

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Services affected range from quayside kiosks selling hot drinks, to the cranes and the loading and unloading facilities.

Euro MPs and unions who object to the plans insist any new laws to open up competition must restrict or exclude altogether self handling for cargo, where port users provide their own services or use the ship's crew. They also want to exclude pilotage.

The European Commission has countered, saying it wants the directive to become law in order to liberalise the port sector like any other industrial sector in Europe.

It wants to ensure specific, uniform rules on access to the provision of port services - almost the only transport sector not to have a Community legal framework.

British Tory and Liberal Democrat MEPs who voted for the proposals when they were last debated in 2003 will oppose them this week, joining Labour, Green and UK Independence Party MEPs in a concerted cross-party bid.

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