European ports reform: making the most of the EU’s capabilities
European shipowners have been closely following developments on the Commission’s third attempt to liberalise market access to port services and improve the financial transparency of ports. Throughout the legislative process, the EU shipping industry has urged EU decision-makers not to empty an already modest Commission proposal from all its meaning. Following a decision to suspend the legislative procedure by Rapporteur Knut Fleckenstein, the Italian Presidency of the Council has been pushing for a Council agreement. Shipowners are once again calling on EU decision-makers to maintain some degree of meaningfulness in the Regulation.
Unfortunately, the text currently endorsed by the Council is indicative of Member States’ lack of ambition with regard to their ports. Not only have Member States endorsed the exclusion of cargo-handling and passenger services from the market access chapter, they have also added the possibility for Member States to also exclude pilotage, without ensuring a proper supervision and the full transparency of pilotage charges. This severely limits the scope of the Regulation while increasing the heterogeneity in the legal framework applicable to EU ports. What is more, provisions pertaining to the consultation of port users as well as a supervision mechanism to ensure the proper implementation of EU rules have been removed.
“We hope that Mr Fleckenstein will be more ambitious than the Council on this particular matter and reintroduce some of the content that has been stripped away by Member States” commented Patrick Verhoeven, ECSA Secretary-General.
“We commend the European Commission’s intentions and acknowledge its efforts to make headway in this particular area. Regardless of the outcome of the current legislative process, the European Commission should still encourage port development and foster efficiency. Progress on many policy areas, such as on pilotage exemption certificates, is long overdue, while the principles of free market access and transparency are not uniformly applied in all EU ports.
Therefore, I believe it is time to decouple the EU’s ports policy from the format of broad regulatory packages covering a variety of issues and services by supplementing them with a more surgical approach for specific policy areas that are not adequately covered by the Regulation and that are in need of reform, but also by honing in on individual port cases where EU rules are not properly applied” he concluded.
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