The European Commission launched yesterday a business survey that seeks feedback on the quality of port services, the efficiency of the port system and transparency of port organisation.
The survey is addressed to port authorities, port service providers, shipping companies, cargo interests and port workers. It covers both sea and inland ports and is a key element in the development of a possible new ‘ports package’, which may be issued next year.
“We welcome the Commission’s initiative to consult stakeholders”, said ESPO Secretary General Patrick Verhoeven, “Previous attempts to regulate European ports were criticised because they were not based on a fundamental analysis of the sector. Things are different now and we therefore actively encourage our members to contribute to this survey so that an accurate picture of the current situation will emerge.”
The development of a common European ports policy has known a bumpy ride so far. Following the initial steps taken at the end of the 1990s, the Commission tried twice to produce a law on market access to port services, in 2001 and 2004. Both attempts were marked by strong union protests and failed to find majority support in the European Parliament. In 2007, the Commission issued a communication on ports policy, which essentially provided guidance on the application of Treaty rules in the sector. ESPO believes that this communication still forms a good basis for further work. “In our recent manifesto on port management and policy, we emphasise the need to establish clear and proportional guidance“, said Patrick Verhoeven, “At the same time, we believe the Commission should carefully monitor implementation of this guidance and act where manifest breaches of Treaty rules occur.”
The business survey is carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and NEA and runs until 24 August. The results will be discussed at a stakeholder conference which the Commission intends to organise in Brussels on 25-26 September this year. In October, another survey will follow in which possible policy options will be presented. These could range from guidance and support measures to infringement procedures and full-blown legislation. Expected key topics include concessions, financing and transparency, public service monopolies and dock labour.
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