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The Erika Case

The “Erika case” deals with the Oil Companies International Maritime Forum (OCIMF) and its
lobbying of planned legislation to increase maritime safety arising from the accident of the tanker Erika in 1999.

OCIMF’s lobbying targeted two proposals: the fast phasing-out of single hull tankers, which would have led to a potential shortage of ships for hire, and the plannedestablishment of a European compensation fund complementary to an already existing American one – which would have caused additional costs to the oil industry. In this case, influence is assessed under the condition of a high degree of conflict between the examined private actors and public actors, and interests that touch upon core political intentions of decision-makers.

Degree of conflict

Inthe Erika case, the degree of conflict between OCIMF and the involved decision-makers was high. The Erika accident posed a particular problem for the responsible DG TREN (Transport and Energy) of the European Commission, because it was working hard on promoting sea transport due to the overuse of rail, road and air transport (Commission of the European Communities 2001f: 13).

DG TREN had justlaunched a White Paper in which it announced the promotion of increased levels of maritime transport, due to an overuse of other modes of transport (Commission of the European Communities 2001b). The Erika accident threatened to have a counterproductive effect on these efforts and therefore necessitated the taking of a fast and tough stance on maritime pollution and quick measures. The accidentthus resulted in a strong political will at the level of the European institutions to design a legislative framework ensuring maritime safety. The most affected OCIMF member – TotalfinaElf, whose oil had been on the tanker – tried to shape the French government’s as well as the French public’s opinion by cleaning beaches and speaking to public authorities and members of parliament.

However, thepublic interest campaigning worked far better on this level and highly politicized the issue. An additional obstacle at the EU level was that the director of DG TREN was French, and apparently succumbed to the pressure the French government was under to secure legislation for the safety of maritime transport. In the further course of the process, due to the political developments in the course ofthe Erika case and the rise from this low politics area to an issue of high political priority, within the Commission as well as within Parliament, opportunities for exerting influence and information had changed due to changed interests of the institutions.

However, the conflict with other interest groups was rather low, or did not result in counteractive
lobbying. Environmental organisations,mainly due to the favourable position of the Commission, did not see a need to get involved and concentrated on other cases instead.

Sidelining activities were essentially initiated by activities of the ship owners’ association European C Ships Association (ECSA). Boat builders, who would have had an economic interest in the obligation to make ships safer due to the need to consequently buildnew ships did not get involved out of fear to offend their customers.

If any type of interest should be analysed more closely in terms of a potential agenda-setting power, these are environmental interests in this case. Their interests were so strongly promoted by the European Commission as well as by the French government that the assumption lies near.

However, this was not the case –environmental interest groups at the national level used the issue to promote strong campaigns against maritime oil transports and for maritime safety – but no coordination with the EU level had taken place at that stage. On the contrary, the European-level organisation completely kept out of the issue, satisfied with a broad general similar direction of interest of the Commission.

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