European ports identify their priorities for Europe’s Transport Policy ahead

21 May 2015

Gathering in Athens for the 12th edition of its Annual Conference, ESPO has presented today its views on the Mid-Term review of the 2011 White Paper on transport. This position paper must feed the review process recently started in the Commission, which should result in an “adjustment” or “review” of the strategic document of 2011.

To understand ESPO’s priorities, it is important to explain that European ports are real “multitaskers”: they combine different functions ranging from gateway to the world, nodes in the transport chain, hotspots for Europe’s industrial activity, safe and secure shelters, the link between Europe’s peripheral regions and islands to the mainland, key players in the transport of passengers, nodes of energy, facilitators for different other sectors and sometimes an essential part of an emergency supply chain.

The Commission wants to know if the challenges identified in 2011 are still valid. The main challenges European ports have identified are: growing traffic volumes which are more and more clustered; ever-increasing ships size and the cost of subsequent adaptation of port and port-hinterland infrastructure; increasing market power of shipping lines as a result of alliances ; national budget constraints limiting the possibilities of public funding for transport infrastructure; volatility in energy prices, the new energy landscape and the transition to alternative fuels; entry into force of the stricter sulphur limits in ECA countries; an increasing societal and environmental pressure; potential changes in shipping routes; the geo-political situation; further globalisation of business and society and the remaining barriers to the internal market for maritime transport.

Taking account of these challenges, ESPO believes that the main Vision of the 2011 White Paper, which recognizes the growth of mobility and transport, is more than ever valid and supports the ambitious target of reducing GHG emissions by 60%. But, for European ports the modal shift policy has not really delivered. Transport policy should aim at shifting towards an efficient, sustainable and smart mobility for all modes of transport.

For ESPO, three guiding principles are of outermost importance to pave the way to a competitive and resource-efficient transport system:

  • Coherence and coordination between EU transport policy and other EU policies,
  • Need for a long-term vision and
  • Be sure that EU action is always assessed in a global context.

ESPO identifies a range of proposals and priorities, amongst others:

  • ESPO pleads for a ports policy that empowers Europe’s ports to meet tomorrow’s challenges. ESPO members can accept a legislative framework that respects the diversity of European ports and that recognizes the autonomy of a port authority to set its own charges and to define a minimum quality level for its service providers. Such a framework has to take into account the specific character and features of ports, when applying the freedom to organise and provide services. Finally, the European ports policy has to ensure financial transparency where ports receive public funding for their infrastructure and/or operations.
  • As regards state aid to ports, EU policy makers should provide a pragmatic, predictable and stable environment for port authorities. The EU should also take a consistent approach in the assessment of EU funding and national/regional funding of transport infrastructure.

  • The new TEN-T guidelines and Connecting Europe Facility are seen as the most important achievement of the White Paper so far. The TEN-T framework adopted in 2013 should remain the cornerstone of Europe’s Transport Infrastructure policy for the coming decades and this ambitious transport infrastructure plan and its financial envelope should be further defended. ESPO is further seeking further clarification as regards the added value of being a comprehensive port in the TEN-T network.

  • For ESPO, it is time to lift the maritime frontiers of the European Union. Of all modes, the internal market for maritime transport is the least developed. The implementation of the Directive on the Reporting formalities is encountering different obstacles. To make progress, ESPO proposes to follow a concrete approach focusing on the standardization of the way similar data requirements are introduced, assessment of the added value and necessity of existing formalities, respect for well-functioning Port Community Systems, better cooperation between maritime and customs authorities of the member states and cooperation between DG TAXUD and the national customs authorities to develop a solution for giving EU status to goods transported by sea.

  • European ports can play a crucial role in moving towards a low-carbon transport system and economy. In that context, ESPO asks the European Commission to encourage investments in maritime ports that enhance the role of alternative fuels and energy. Moreover, European ports can play an important role in securing the supply of energy for transport and power generation. ESPO therefore hopes that European policy makers are considering European seaports as important interlocutors when paving the way for a European Energy Union.

  • In view of further improving the environmental performance of ports, ESPO asks the Commission to support the sector-driven initiatives and projects which promote best-practices and result in high European standards in the field of environmental port management.

  • ESPO recognizes that environmental challenges in the EU might differ from region to region. This might lead to different approaches within the EU. European port authorities however believe that environmental policy initiatives should not distort competition between ports.

  • ESPO considers a cost-recovery system for externalities for all modes of transport to be effective if combined with other measures and initiatives enhancing the optimisation of Europe’s transport system. ESPO however opposes the Commission’s intention put forward in 2011 to internalise costs for local pollution and noise in ports. Internalising the external costs in ports would mean that ports would have to unfairly bear the externals costs of industries in the ports, costs that are often already borne by the individual businesses through their sectorial legislation and tax regimes.

  • Finally, the European transport sector should seriously look into the untapped potential of further digitalisation. The expected growth in freight traffic volumes is of such an order of magnitude that creating additional transport and port infrastructure in itself will not be enough. A better use of the existing capacity is needed. ESPO is convinced that more efficient use of data and technology in traffic will enhance the efficiency of the European Port and Transport system. European ports can play a pivotal role in this process. For European policy makers this development should be seen as a top priority and where possible be encouraged and facilitated.

Find attached the full position paper.

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