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Is Running a Port Authority a Non-Economic Activity ?

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Prof. Hercules Haralambides

In Italy, the debate about the nature of port authorities has resurged, following the decision of a regional administrative court to annul the government’s decision to appoint Professor Hercules Haralambides of Erasmus University Rotterdam as President of the Port Authority of Brindisi on the grounds that he does not have the Italian citizenship.   Prof Haralambides, an internationally renowned port economist of Greek nationality, was appointed President of the Apulian port in June last year by the Italian Minister of Transport for a mandate of four years, following the procedure and requirements that are foreseen in the Italian law on ports. Calogero Casilli, who was also candidate, contested the decision on the grounds that Prof Haralambides does not have the Italian nationality. The Regional Administrative Court of Puglia now followed this reasoning in its decision of 26 June, arguing that a port authority is a public and non-economic entity. Accordingly, the president of a port authority should be excluded from the application of Article 45 of the European Treaty that provides for the free movement of persons within the European Union.

Whilst it is still uncommon in Europe for a citizen from one country to run a port authority in another, the decision is nevertheless remarkable, as it implies that the function of ports in Italy is not predominantly economic. Reducing the role of a port authority to a purely public one furthermore goes against the trend in Europe and the rest of the world to valorise a port authority’s economic role as business developer and facilitator. When the discussion today is all about globalisation, competition, public-private partnerships, efficiency and performance, it appears difficult to argue that a port authority should remain a mere ‘State regulator’.

Italian shipowners’ organisation Confitarma already said to be ‘perplexed’ by the narrow legalistic logic followed by the Apulian court. Supported by the Ministry of Transport, Prof Haralambides appealed against the decision with the Council of State in Rome, which is expected to rule on the matter soon.

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