CAMPAIGNERS calling for a fairer playing field in the cruise industry say they have had a positive meeting with senior European leaders.
North East Conservative MEP Martin Callanan is still angry that Liverpool City Council was able to use government and European money to build a new cruise ferry terminal, only to go back on the deal not to compete for turnaround calls.
Although the government said the authority would have to pay back some of the money – either an £8.8m lump sum or £12.6m over 15 years – Mr Callanan says the European funding should be paid back as well.
He feels it is unfair on other ports, such as the Port of Tyne, to pay for their own improvements, while the deal for Liverpool could take trade away.
And recently he met with the EU Competition Commissioner responsible for state aids, Joaquin Almunia, to discuss a more level playing field in the cruise industry and the possibility of Liverpool paying back all public money before restrictions are lifted.
Mr Callanan, who was joined by South East MEP Daniel Hannan to highlight similar concerns in Southampton, said: “I’m very grateful to Commissioner Almunia for meeting me and others involved in this campaign.
“He was very much aware of the history of this issue and was extremely interested in the latest developments.
“It was a positive meeting and Commissioner Almunia was insistent that the appropriate rules are applied and adhered to.
“I want to ensure a level playing field for all concerned and that means Liverpool cannot happily accept taxpayers’ money which came with strict conditions, and then simply disregard them later.
“The Commissioner has requested more information on this case from the UK government into its dealings with Liverpool which have resulted in cruise ships now operating turnaround calls on Merseyside despite not having been granted permission from the EU.
“The cruise industry is worth millions of pounds and supports hundreds of jobs in the north east.
“Nobody is against Liverpool developing its own cruise business provided that it is done in a fair way. That means they must pay back all the public money they received including from the EU.
“It also means Liverpool must stop any further illegal cruises until that point is reached.”