Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Others: from navigating the Rhine to navigating the Skies

It's been a while since I blogged about my RIO Trip of the European institutions and organisations, so it's probably time for an update.

Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine.

This organisation has the claim to fame of being the oldest international organisation in the world, set up in the 19th Century after the Napoleonic Wars to promote the free navigation of the Rhine to encourage economic growth. There are 5 member states (France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland - though the US was a member at one point), and the organisation can adopt regulations for the Rhine on the basis of unanimity of its members.

Sound familar? There is also a kind of court system, with designated national courts to deal with disputes, and a CCNR Appeal Court. Though the court system is at arms length from the core organisation (it is, after all, a judicial branch), in many ways it, and the laws it upholds, are the most striking things about the CCNR. Old as it is, it's an impressive (and surprisingly early) example of international co-operation giving individuals enforceable rights.

[Image from Wikipedia].

Today the CCNR resides in an old German Imperial Palace in Strasbourg (apparently the Kaiser hated the place but his wife was rather more fond of it), and it's now called Le Palais du Rhin. The CCNR is still focused on economic freedom of the Rhine, but there are also issues of employment law and environmental protection. However, the EU has impacted on the CCNR - the EU works in the area of environmental protection and some areas of worker's rights, so the CCNR has to work differently to make its presence felt. Now it sees its role as that of an expert body, giving advice to its much younger sister Commission on the Danube, and other authorities, including the EU, and has worked on giving advice and expertise on shaping EU regulation in this area.

The grand atmosphere of the Palais gave the organisation a strange air: it struck me as an organisation that was very proud of its history, and resigned to a Europe of highly competitive international organisations.


Eurocontrol brust into the limelight recently during the Ash Cloud Crisis last year, when they experienced the very European position of being blamed for something which they didn't do: in this case for the closure of airports. Eurocontrol aims at the creation of a "Single European Sky", but generally deals with co-ordination between airspaces (there are still national airspace controls) and the collection of route charges.

Eurocontrol, like the CCNR, is not part of the EU system but heavily affected by it. I was struck by the enthusiasm while I was there and the focus of the Eurocontrol on competing with other organisations to provide more air traffic services to the EU and its member states. It continues to grow in membership - in fact, Latvia has become its 39th member today (PDF).

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