European Commission Proposes Upgrade for Key Seaports

The European Commission has today launched a new initiative to improve port operations and onward transport connections at 319 key seaports along Europe’s coastline.

The guidelines and legal changes being proposed will help port operators upgrade their services and facilities as well as giving them more financial autonomy.

74% of the goods entering or leaving Europe go by sea, but one fifth of that amount 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. The new proposals could save the European economy up to €10 billion by 2030 and help develop new short sea links.

Vice-President Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for mobility and transport, said: “Our seaports are vital gateways, linking our transport corridors to the rest of the world. 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 today will bring Europe’s port services into the 21st century, help attract investment and create jobs where they are most needed.”

More efficient ports

The Commission is proposing more transparent and open procedures to designate the providers of port services. There will be rules to prevent possible price abuses by operators with exclusive rights. For greater customer-focus, the proposal introduces a port users’ advisory committee. Details will be left to local circumstances so that local port communities can benefit from better coordination and a healthier business environment.

To further enhance efficiency, the Commission will bring forward proposals to cut red tape and reduce administrative formalities in ports before the summer (the so-called “Blue Belt” proposals).

Better connections to the hinterland

EU funding under the “Connecting Europe Facility” will have a new focus on port projects identified in the so-called TEN-T corridor plans for priority funding and on connections of ports with rail, inland waterways and road. Ports will be encouraged to play an active role in this, for instance by providing information on traffic flows.

Investment: A flexible, business-like financial framework

The proposal extends the freedom of ports to levy infrastructure charges and reinforces the transparency in the way the charges are set and in the use of public funding. Port authorities themselves are indeed best placed to identify user needs and set charges. At the same time a greater transparency will allow public funds without unduly distorting competition and will help in attracting private investors. Ports will also be able to reduce charges for vessels with better environmental performance.

Social dialogue

Starting this June, the Commission will create a “Social Dialogue Committee for Ports” to allow employees and employers to discuss and agree on dockwork-related issues. The Commission will provide a technical and administrative support to the work of this Committee and will evaluate progress in 2016.

Recognising the particular challenges facing ports, this will be the first time that the Commission creates sector-specific legislation for this area. Prior to this, ports have been covered by general EU law on the freedom of establishment and competition rules.

There are in total 1,200 seaports in Europe. This proposal targets the 319 key European ports which together can create a real European ports network capable of supporting Europe’s internal market. These 319 ports are already prioritised in the Commission’s TEN-T (trans-European transport network) proposals — 83 ports in the core network; 236 in the comprehensive network.

Next steps

The initiative is part of the key action on maritime transport announced in the Single Market Act II adopted by the Commission in October 2012. It complements other Commission initiatives such as the future directive on the award of concession contracts (which will apply to concessions in ports on cargo handling and passenger terminals) establishing common procedures and introducing more transparency to ensure the granting of concessions in a non-discriminatory way.

This initiative comprises a communication that reviews the European port policy and announces eight Commission actions and a focused legislative proposal to the European Parliament and to the Council in order to introduce the new legal provisions required to deliver the policy and objectives.

The proposal must be approved by the European Parliament and Member States before being adopted under the normal legislative procedure.

Press Release, May 23, 2013

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