This week, the European Parliament adopted a report on a framework for the organization of port services and financial transparency of ports.
The lack of clear rules on public funding of port infrastructure and charges for using it holds back investment in ports, says the E.U. Commission. The new rules aim to make E.U. ports more efficient and attractive to investors.
They apply to over 300 E.U. seaports in the trans-European transport network, and include a requirement for ports to show clearly in their accounting systems the public funds they have received and to improve transparency in the way port services and infrastructure charges are set. E.U. member states would also have to ensure that an effective procedure is in place to handle complaints.
The proposal, presented by the rapporteur MEP Knut Fleckenstein, was originally put forward in 2013 but stalled due to the European Parliament elections in 2014 and then picked up again by the same rapporteur. It was the subject of intense discussions and long negotiations.
“After 15 years of discussion about European ports policy, we have finally found an agreement: existing port management models can be maintained and, for the first time, there is an emphasis on good working conditions, which are a major part of the competitiveness of ports and are non-negotiable for us", said Fleckenstein.
"Financial transparency is at the core of the agreement, which should facilitate the work of the Commission on a coherent state aid regime and trigger investments into ports,” he added.
In Europe, shipping accounts for 37 percent of intra-E.U. trade. Road transport counts for 45 percent, while rail comes much lower, with just above 10 percent.
To deliver high quality services, the rules include new requirements for port service providers to ensure that employees receive the necessary training, with particular emphasis on health and safety. These training requirements should also be regularly updated to meet the challenges of technological innovation.
The regulation does not impose a specific management model for ports. However, it does lay down conditions if they wish to set minimum requirements for services such as towage, mooring, bunkering and the collection of ship-generated waste, or to restrict the number of providers of these services. For example, ports could limit the number of service providers in order to ensure safety, security and environmental sustainability.
Cargo handling and passenger services will also be subject to financial transparency rules, but are exempted from those on the organization of port services.
ECSA Ready to Move Forward
European Community Shipowners’ Associations’ (ECSA) Secretary General Patrick Verhoeven said: "ECSA has deplored throughout the discussions that this proposal does not address some of the market access problems in ports shipowners face. However, now that after 15 years of discussions we finally have a first E.U. law on ports, we should build on this and see it as a first step towards a genuine motorways of the sea in which ports are key points."
He added: "Especially for short sea shipping operators, who make frequent port calls and for whom by consequence well performing port services are proportionally extremely important, we call upon the European Commission to take now further efforts to ensure this sector can deliver its potential."
ECSA highlighted its priorities for an E.U. short sea shipping agenda earlier this year with the adoption of its shortsea shipping brochure. The Brochure calls on the E.U. to:
• Identify all barriers that prevent the establishment of true Motorways of the Sea
• Complete the Single Market for shipping
• Simplify procedures for regular short sea services with third countries
• Ensure market access to port services and guarantee free movement of goods
• Devise competition-neutral ways to financially stimulate short sea shipping.