Home OrganisationsEuropean Union Determination and resolve needed to reach meaningful ports reform package

Determination and resolve needed to reach meaningful ports reform package

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Patrick Verhoeven

Patrick Verhoeven

European shipowners have sent input to the European Parliament, ahead of a discussion in the TRAN Committee on the on the European Commission’s proposal for a Regulation on Market access to port services and financial transparency of ports. In it, they call for a more comprehensive and inclusive reforms package. 

The European Commission, in an effort to avoid repeating the mistakes of previous failed attempts in 2003 and 2006, when its proposals were ultimately rejected, adopted a more cautious approach on its third charge. This led to a piecemeal approach that was supposed to fare better than the two previous ones, but still encountered strong reactions from MEPs and ultimately led to the suspension of the legislative procedure in March last year.

“We understand the Commission’s wariness and caution but remain convinced that an EU ports reform package should be more ambitious than the current proposal, which only addresses some of the  real problems faced by ports users in EU ports” commented ECSA Secretary-General Patrick Verhoeven.

More specifically, EU shipowners ask MEPs to push for a balanced market access chapter in the Regulation, as restrictive practices and legal obstacles continue to hamper access to services in several EU ports. Shipowners, far from advocating an unbridled liberalisation of the port services market, are in favour of a reasonable, more measured approach, based on the principle of openness. This liberalisation would not eliminate restriction on the grounds of safety and other considerations. It would merely ensure that they are applied in a justifiable, proportional and transparent manner.

Shipowners also ask MEPs not to exclude any port services from the text under consideration. Cargo-handling and passenger services, absent from the initial proposal, are the most significant part of port call costs. Hence, they should be included in and covered by an EU ports Regulation. Moreover services, already included in the proposed text such as pilotage, towage and mooring, should remain firmly within the scope of the Regulation, and should not be dismissed for safety or public service reasons, as the proposal already foresees the necessary provisions to take these aspects into account in an appropriate manner.

Financial transparency for port funding is another major issue in this proposal and shipowners see no reason why the rules thereon should only apply to major European ports. “Port size should not be a consideration when applying financial transparency rules” said Mr Verhoeven, adding that they should be considered as the first step towards unambiguous state aid rules for seaports which will provide much-needed clarity to port users, port authorities and port service providers.

Shipowners, as any customer, also want to have the right to express their views on developments that are extremely important to them, such as the coordination of port services, hinterland connections and administrative simplification. The EU shipping industry therefore not only supports the design of a mechanism that ensures that users are heard by the managing body of the port and port service providers, but also highlights the need for independent supervision of port managing bodies as a counterweight to their natural monopoly.

“The current proposal, whatever its final form, only addresses a selection of port-related topics. Other issues, such as the simplification of administrative procedures, the completion of the internal market for shipping and the use of pilotage exemption certificates are part and parcel of a comprehensive EU port policy. Given the essential role ports play as gateways for global and intra-EU trade, we firmly believe that the EU should pursue with unwavering determination its efforts aimed at a more efficient EU ports system” concluded Mr Verhoeven.

ECSA’s input can be found here

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