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Court of Auditors’ assessment of regional funded port projects in the period 2000-2013

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Isabelle Ryckbost

Isabelle Ryckbost

23 September 2016

Court of Auditors’ assessment of regional funded port projects in the period 2000-2013 may not prejudge the current TEN-T policy and financial framework

Today, the European Court of Auditors has published its special report, Maritime Transport in the EU: in troubled waters – much ineffective and unsustainable investmentwhich looks into the value for money delivered by EU funded investments in ports. Concretely the Court of Auditors audited EU funded port infrastructure projects in 19 ports in five Member States. The audit covers the previous financial periods (2000-2013) and is looking almost exclusively at regional and cohesion funding.

ESPO welcomes that EU funded port investments are audited.European port authorities strongly support cost-efficiency for both public and private investments and believes that a thorough ex-ante and ex-post analysis of how EU funds have been spent will ensure that maximum value is gained from scarce EU funds invested in the port sector.

“A first reading of this report illustrates once again the importance of well-thought off investments, setting priorities and reducing the administrative burden. It also points out how investments in ports have to be accompanied by adequate hinterland links to have full added value,” says ESPO’s Secretary General, Isabelle Ryckbost in a first reaction to the publication.  

Looking at the scope of the audit, ESPO’s Secretary General points out: “This audit report covers essentially port investments which received EU Regional or Cohesion grants initiated under the previous financial and legislative framework. It would be inappropriate to use this audit to put the new TEN-T policy into question, considering that the first projects under this framework are not the subject of this audit and they are not completed yet. Moreover, changing the fundamentals of Europe’s Transport Infrastructure plan after only two years of starting its implementation would be completely irresponsible.”

ESPO and its members will examine the report and its recommendations in detail in the weeks to come.

For ESPO, it is important to take into account the complexity of the European port sector, when assessing the value for money of port investments. As a matter of fact, Europe’s seaport sector is extensive, complex and faces many challenges not least of which is the provision of long-term capacity for future growth.

Large port projects often generate only a very limited financial return for the port authorities. However, they generate an important economic return by benefiting supply chains and the economy as a whole. Financing such projects is a challenge. Moreover, implementing large port projects requires a wide range of permits at member state and regional levels and these can often result in long pre-construction lead times. These considerations will have to be taken into account when assessing “cost overruns”, “delays” and “short-term under capacity”.

Overall, European seaports believe that the continued availability of funding for port projects from the European Commission and from the European Investment Bank is essential if Europe’s ports are to continue to fulfil their essential role in facilitating trade and the movement of Europe’s citizens.  In that respect, ESPO is a full supporter of the  current TEN-T legislative framework, following which port investments can only receive grants if they are in line with the objectives of Europe’s transport policy and contribute to the completion of a sustainable and efficient Trans-European Transport network. Regional funding schemes should also be in line with these objectives

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