May 29, 2014

Recognising sovereignty: The EU-Philippine derecognition affair

The perpetual threat by the EU of derecognition of Filipino seafarer certificates is a story that has gone on for far, far too long. And, contrary to some reports that are headlined otherwise, the threat of a ban has just been postponed, not lifted.  

The Philippine Star says that the Europeans now agree that progress has been made by the Philippines in addressing issues of seafarer training but that further European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) inspections will be due in October this year. The Philippines will also have to give to the EU, before the end of July, ‘evidence to demonstrate that all outstanding deficiencies have been resolved.’ And, critically, ‘Failure to resolve any remaining issue may result in the loss of EU recognition.’  

In short, Filipino certificates are valid to work on EU ships today, but they may not be in five or six months. 

So what is new? This situation has remained unchanged for many months. For the young Filipino seamen that a ban will hit the hardest, the perpetual threat of a ban has become a nightmarish time-loop that never seems to end. 

The fact is that European shipowners need Filipino seamen as badly as the seamen need them, which is why many believe the ban will never materialise. Some, like Andrew Guest, indicate that there may be other reasons for the EU dragging on with its threats. “The European bloc is in talks with The Philippines government on strengthening economic ties,” he writes. “Fewer restrictions on EU imports from the Asian country might see the latter smoothing the way for foreign direct investment, moves that could lead to a free trade association. It was, perhaps, coincidence too that at about the same time the EU also lifted a ban on Filipino airline, Cebu Pacific, from flying in its skies (a similar ban on Philippines Airline was lifted a year ago).”

Countries like India that supply significant numbers of maritime professionals to the global fleet have one or two things to learn from the EU-Philippines narrative. For one, they need to adopt a stance that makes it clear that although the competence of its products- crews- may be open to evaluation or scrutiny when employed abroad, any foreign entity cannot officially audit processes that impinge on sovereignty, as has been done to the Philippines. As I wrote a few years ago when this circus started, would a European country allow an Indian audit of its flying schools just because some European pilots fly for Indian airlines?

And, our nations should realise that threats of derecognition may be linked to broader economic negotiations that have a long term impact on their countries, so responses to unseemly threats and pressures should be comprehensive and calibrated to our own objectives. We should make it clear to those who threaten: amend your rules to say that Indians or Filipinos cannot work on your ships; that is your prerogative. But do not interfere with our administration or processes; that is ours.

All this is not to say that falling standards should not be a cause for concern or that corrective actions should not be taken. We should, in fact, actively seek input from owners, shipmanagers and administrators of other countries as to where our nationals are being found wanting and find solutions to our own shortcomings. A mistaken belief in our own infallibility is not the issue here.

Actually, all I am saying here is that my Master’s Certificate of Competency is issued by the Government of India and not by the European Union or anybody else, and only the Indian Government should be able to derecognise it. 



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