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Europe

EU Port Services Bill Rejected by Lawmakers

EU lawmakers on Wednesday rejected plans to free up Europe's port services in a vote two days after protestors brought docks to a standstill and staged violent demonstrations outside the European Parliament.

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European dockers have reason to celebrate...for now

The proposals for a port services directive, or EU law, that would open up European docks to competition from outside the bloc were rejected by 532 against with 120 in favor and 25 abstentions in the EU legislature in Strasbourg.

The Socialists, the second biggest party in parliament, voted overwhelmingly against the plans, and even some in the conservative European People's Party, the biggest grouping, voted to reflect their skepticism at the proposal

Liberals in the 732-seat assembly originally voiced support for the principle of freeing up competition, but said the current proposal was misguided.

"I am in favor of a general liberalization of markets and port services, but I cannot support this proposal," said liberal Josu Ortuondo Larrea.

Deputies from all political parties in the European parliament had lined up earlier in the week to denounce the plans as threatening dock workers' jobs by opening up ports to more competition, including from companies outside the European Union.

"I believe this text belongs in the dockside rubbish container, and I hope that is where it will end up after we reject it," said socialist Willi Piecyk on Tuesday. "I haven't heard a single argument which justifies endangering these jobs," he added.

Rejected pla n had bee n ame n ded from last vetoed draft

Bildergalerie EU-Kommissare Jacques Barrot Vice President Transport French

It's back to the drawing board for Barrot's port proposals.

EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot, defending his plans, said he would "draw the necessary conclusions" from the vote. He said amendments suggested by the parliament at an earlier stage had already been included.

"The improvements brought by parliament were excellent, and allowed us to respond to some justified criticisms of the text," he said.

The rejected plan was the second attempt by the European Commission, after EU lawmakers rejected a first version in November 2003.

Europe's dock workers fear the liberalization plans, which seek to let more firms compete for work, could cost thousands of jobs in a sector that handles the vast majority of Europe's exports.

One point that had drawn particular ire from the dockers is a proposal for so-called "self handling," meaning that crew on vessels could load and unload their own cargo, taking work away from Europe's relatively costly dock workers.

Dockers make feeli n gs clear through strikes a n d viole n ce

In a day of strikes Monday, tens of thousands of dockers from Copenhagen to Lisbon and Antwerp to Piraeus walked off the job to protest against the proposal.

Protest von Hafenarbeitern in Straßburg

Angry dock workers laid siege to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

On the same day thousands of dockers demonstrated in Strasbourg, clashing with police outside the EU assembly in a confrontation that left 64 officers hurt and caused hundreds of thousands of euros' worth of damage to the building itself, according to police authorities.

Officials said at least 200 square meters (2,150 square feet) of windows were smashed when demonstrators hurled rocks and bottles at the parliament building.

Police fired tear gas grenades in a bid to curb the unrest, said authorities, who put the number of demonstrators at 6,200. Organizers said 10,000 people took part in the protests.

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