EU Ports Reform Turning into an Empty Shell?
The scope of the EU Regulation on Market access to port services and financial transparency of ports could be cut extensively as the text becomes ever more weakened in the EU Council of Ministers, according to the European Community Shipowners’ Association (ECSA).
In March, MEP Knut Fleckenstein, the rapporteur on the European Commission’s proposal for the Regulation said that the legislative procedure for this particular file would be suspended until the new European Parliament would be in place following the European election of May.
Since then, EU Member States have been discussing the EU Commission’s proposal for a Port Regulation in the Council of Ministers. The Italian Presidency of the Council aims at striking a deal with the European Parliament at first reading and discussions are moving fast in that direction.
“Unfortunately, in order to achieve this, the text currently under consideration by the Council is slowly inching towards the initial position of the Parliament, which was itself a watered down version of the Commission’s proposal.
Member States are contemplating excluding cargo handling and passenger services from the Regulation while the exclusion of pilotage remains uncertain. Council deliberations are also focusing on whether the Regulation should only apply to major EU ports (TEN-T core network ports). In light of these developments, the scope of the Regulation could be drastically reduced, turning the EU ports reform into little more than an empty shell,” according to ECSA.
“It is extremely disheartening to see EU co-legislators gradually empty the already weak Commission proposal of any substance for the port user community. The opportunity for a meaningful reform of EU ports is slipping through our fingers and at this stage the EU shipping industry’s interest in supporting this proposal is indeed very limited,” said Patrick Verhoeven, ECSA Secretary-General.
ECSA said that in addition to reducing the scope, EU Member States are also contemplating a weaker consultation procedure of port users for all matters related to port charging policy, connections with the hinterland, efficiency of the administrative procedures and environmental issues.
What is more, Member States are further diluting the Commission’s initial proposal by backtracking on the issue of the need for an independent authority that would monitor and supervise the correct application of the Regulation, ECSA added.
“European shipowners urge Member States to reconsider their approach and refocus on the raison d’être of this legislative procedure, i.e., delivering a reform that will improve the efficiency and increase the transparency of EU ports,” Verhoeven concluded.
The new guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) have identified 329 key seaports along Europe’s coastline that will become part of a unified network for boosting growth and competitiveness in Europe’s Single Market.
The Connecting Europe Facility financial instrument is expected to provide up to € 26 billion to support transport infrastructures, including ports and connections of port with the hinterland, for the period 2014-2020.
The Commission adopted on 23 May 2013 an initiative aimed at improving port operations and onward transport connections at these 329 key seaports. This initiative proposes an integrated strategy combining legislative measures and non-legislative measures.