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Port regulation: ESPO sees room for a realistic compromise between Council and Parliament

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Knut Fleckenstein

Knut Fleckenstein

Brussels,  4 May 2015 – Tomorrow, EP’s Transport Committee (TRAN) will hold a first debate on the Port Regulation proposal of May 2013. In March 2014, the EP rapporteur, Knut Fleckenstein (picture) and the main EP negotiators decided for different reasons not to vote on the proposal before the elections but to leave it to the new Parliament to pick up the thread. In the meantime, the Transport Council reached a political agreement. 

The European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) asks the rapporteur and the new Transport Committee, when considering the proposal,  to fully take account of the substantial progress made by the Council on different issues:

  • The setting up of a more realistic procedure for the handling of complaints, which replaces the establishment of an unnecessary independent supervisory body.
  • The deletion of dredging from the list of port services. Dredging, be it capital or maintenance dredging, is to be considered as a part of the development and maintenance of the port infrastructure, and not as a port service.
  • The choice for a more pragmatic, bottom-up approach, in relation to the users’ committee and stakeholders’ consultation.

However, European seaports count on the Rapporteur and on the Parliament to strengthen the Council deal on one important issue: the autonomy of the port to set its own charges.

For European ports, developing their own charging policy is one of the main tools of nowadays port management. This autonomy principle has been put forward in the Commission proposal of 23 May 2013. This principle was further strengthened in the compromise amendments which were on the table before the EP elections. The Council however watered down the principle of autonomy by giving Member States the option to either give ports (more) autonomy on the issue or to leave it to the national policy to define the port charges. European ports fear that this subsidiarity approach will further undermine the level playing field between European ports.

In general, ESPO hopes that Parliament pursues the constructive debate that started last year and believes that all elements for a workable Regulation are either on the Council or the Parliament table.

We believe that so far both the Council and the Rapporteur, supported by the main negotiators have put a lot of effort in improving the Commission proposal. Strengthening the autonomy of ports, both when it comes to setting their own charges and defining the minimum quality level for their service providers, are however essential conditions for us. We hope that the rapporteur and the new Parliament continue to support us in that sense. We are looking forward to restarting the discussion with Parliament, Council and Commission as well as with all other stakeholders in view of having a Port Regulation that benefits every single port in Europe.” says ESPO Secretary General Isabelle Ryckbost.

Since the publication of the Commission proposal in 2013, ESPO members have expressed their support for a legislative framework that:

  • respects the diversity of European ports: European ports differ because of their geographical situation, governance model and organisation structure, markets they serve, tasks, size, financing model, competitive position and market power.
  • recognizes the autonomy of a port authority to set its own charges and to define a minimum quality service level by setting minimum requirements and, where relevant, public service obligations, for its service providers.
  • develops a framework for applying the freedom to organise and provide services applicable to the port sector,  while taking into account its specific character and features; such a framework should not holding back strongly performing ports;
  • ensures financial transparency where ports receive public funding for their infrastructure and/or operations; this should however not result in disproportionate administrative burden. This implies that port authorities have financial autonomy, both in terms of investment decisions and managing of income.

At the same time,  ESPO would oppose a framework that:

  • intervenes in the commercial freedom of ports and port authorities to vary charges according to the port management’s economic strategy;
  • prescribes how ports and port authorities should deal with their clients;
  • imposes additional administrative burden to ports which are not competing at the European scene;
  • creates an independent supervisory body.

The ESPO position on the draft Regulation proposal can be found here.

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