European Commission unveils proposals to improve port efficiency

  • Initiative aims to improve operations and hinterland connections at 319 of the continent’s ports

  • ESPO and EDF raise concerns stemming from new proposals

The European Commission (EC) has published a new initiative that aims to improve port operations and onward transport connections at 319 key seaports along Europe’s coastline.

The guidelines and legal changes being proposed will look to help port operators upgrade their services and facilities, as well as have more financial autonomy.

As much as 74 percent of goods entering or leaving the continent is transported by sea, however one fifth of this currently passes through just three ports, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp. This imbalance between port performance results in congestion and extra costs for shippers, transport operators and consumers. According to the EC, theses new proposals could save the European economy up to €10 billion by 2030 and help develop new short sea links.

Vice-President European Commissioner for mobility and transport, said: “Our seaports are vital gateways, linking our transport corridors to the rest of the world,” said the EC’s vice president Siim Kallas.

“We already have some of the finest port facilities in the world. We need to keep them. But we are facing major challenges in terms of congestion, traffic growth and investment. More of our ports need to reach these high standards. The proposals will bring Europe’s port services into the 21st century, help attract investment and create jobs where they are most needed.”

However, the EC initiative has received mixed industry reviews. The European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) for example has welcomed the fact that the initiative values the important role that seaports play for the European economy. ESPO though has raised concerns about the potential implications the regulation proposal may have on the autonomy of port authorities.

“We appreciate that the Commission intends to recognise the central role of port authorities and we support the provisions of the regulation that aim to create greater financial transparency”, said ESPO secretary general, Patrick Verhoeven,

“At the same time, we are concerned about the competencies that the regulation attributes to other authorities and the impact some of the proposed procedures may have on the commercial freedom of ports and their ability to invest.”

The regulation proposal excludes cargo handling and passenger services from market access rules. ESPO believes that an inclusive, non-legislative approach, covering all port services, would have been more balanced and proportional in this respect.

Later this month, the General Assembly of ESPO will adopt a formal position, prior to the organisation’s annual conference in Varna, where the new proposals will be discussed for the first time with industry stakeholders.

Meanwhile, the European Transport Worker’ Federation (EDF) said in a statement on Wednesday that it is satisfied that the Commission’s proposals refrained from touching upon port labour organisation and that cargo-handling is excluded from market access rules. However, it is “extremely concerned about the consequences that the proposals could have on the workers that the Federation represents in technical-nautical services, notably in pilotage, towage and mooring”.

The ETF Dockers and Maritime Transport Sections have already started a joint debate on the future EU ports policy and are ready to join forces to make their voice and priorities heard by policy-makers.

The EC’s proposals must be approved by the European Parliament and EU member states’ ministers before being adopted under the normal legislative procedure.

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