New policies and opportunities for rediscovering European ports

The future of European ports has been discussed during the Sea Ports Conference that took place in the city of Sopot (Poland) from 10th to 11th May 2012. The main topics under debate was port financing and investment, the most important enabling factors behind port development.

Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Transport, participated to the event. In his closing speech, he stressed the importance of ports as the gateways for Europe’s exports and trade flows, and vital links in the transport logistics chain.

He underlined that “ports are expected to grow; they are already the transit point for up to 90% of Europe’s freight exchanges with the rest of the world and 40% of those in the internal market. To cope with the rising demand, ports will need to adequate public and private financing as will other parts of Europe’s transport infrastructure”. He also remarked that “first of all is needed to identify where that growth and demand will actually leave our many hundreds of seaports in the next 20 years”.

European Commission on Transport objective is to build a single joined-up transport area for Europe with the Trans-European Network, and ports acting as major logistics hubs linking waterborne and land-based transport, have a major significance on those policies development.

“With so many different operating models and lack of clear EU-wide rules which, in some cases, prevents a fair competition environment, it is now time to set a more coherent European ports policy. Commission is about having greater transparency and fewer restrictions with port operators and service providers, to remove barriers for new entrants wanting to tender fairly and openly for port services, regarding fair competition as healthy” stated Vice-President Kallas.

The potential of European ports could be better exploited by focusing more on its connections with tourism. Tourism activities are a source of growth for Europe’s ports, especially from an economical and environmental point of view. As a result, EU has welcomed a relatively new phenomenon into the EU tourism industry: cruise tourism.

The event has been an occasion to debate other topics such as the provision of services and labour issues, because no EU-wide rules exist to cover the wide range of regulatory conditions and legal arrangements for this, which makes it difficult to monitor or measure performance.

Currently, different ports apply different structures and systems. “Charges should be set at an appropriate level that reflects the cost of the infrastructure and service provided. Some of the practices are highly restrictive and amount to what is, in effect, a ‘closed shop’ where service providers may not employ personnel of their own choice. So we need to learn from best practices, and we need to find a balance where there can be clear guarantees of social protection” claimed Mr. Kallas to finish the closing keynote address of the Conference.

The European Commission intends to launch a consultation process to hear from the entire ports community, followed by an impact assessment over many issues, all of them beneficial for the sector as a whole. A daunting task for the Commission will be to strike a good balance that is in the interest of the entire EU ports community. To put it into practice, Vice-President Kallas told that in the last week of September 2012  a conference and workshop will take place in Brussels to evaluate port policies in more detail.

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