Today and yesterday, ESPO held the 9th edition of its annual Conference in Sopot, the elegant Polish seaside resort town located in between the ports of Gdansk and Gdynia, who were hosting the event. The conference revolved around the theme of port financing and investment, the most important enabling factors behind port development.
The conference also devoted attention to the review of European ports policy that the European Commission recently announced. Other topics which were discussed during the first day included the financial capabilities of port authorities, public private partnerships, concessions and regional investment opportunities. On day two, the conference continued with a session on the European policy context followed by a roundtable discussion on port privatisation. This has again become a topical issue in Europe as the economic crisis is pushing some countries to sell off ports and other vital infrastructures.
Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas (pictured above) gave the closing keynote speech of the conference. “The ports policy review will not be a one size fits all approach. After all, there must be sufficient flexibility to take local circumstances into account. It is certainly not for the Commission to tell ports how their business should be run, or to suggest particular business models”, said Mr. Kallas, “The review is about having greater transparency and fewer restrictions, to remove barriers for new entrants wanting to tender fairly and openly for port services. Fair competition is a healthy – and I would say, usual – requirement for improving port performance generally and for the system’s overall efficiency.”
In his conclusions, ESPO Chairman Victor Schoenmakers emphasised the need to balance legal certainty with the flexibility that port authorities need to manage the dynamic nature of the industry. “This is the most important challenge to resolve”, said Mr. Schoenmakers.
During the conference, ESPO presented a manifesto, advocating a ‘renaissance’ of port management and policy. The manifesto addresses port authorities, governments and the European Union. It advocates first of all a change of management culture among port authorities, one that combines a dynamic business policy with good corporate governance and transparency, both within and beyond the port area. Secondly, it invites responsible governments to devise frameworks that guarantee independent port management, removing all necessary bottlenecks. Finally, it recognises the potential of the European Union to be a positive force by ensuring a level playing field and legal certainty and fostering growth and development of ports.
Next year, ESPO is heading to the Black Sea region where the Port of Varna will be hosting the 10th ESPO Conference, on 30-31 May. All presentations given at this year’s conference will be available from the ESPO website next week.