The European Commission has highlighted the need for revised legislation on the provision of ports services across the region because development and integration with the wider logistics network remains uneven. In an official statement released last week the Commission said that currently there is "a patchwork of national regulations, with striking differences from one Member State to another" and that "exclusive rights in favour of particular operators and market entry obstacles still exist in the sector", something that was potentially jeopardising growth in Europe and holding back the development of more efficient logistics.
"The disparities of performance between different European ports affect the distribution of cargo flows and the organisation of logistic chains across Europe," said the official statement.
Calling for greater transparency in accountancy and financing at the ports to ensure an optimal level of public funding, the Commission said it aims to create a level-playing field across Europe and is assessing the need to provide for clear and transparent rules on port charges and port services.
"The services need to be efficient and the charges to be cost-based, proportional to the service provision and non-discriminatory. This transparency should avoid access-barriers to ports and allow the ports to be developed to their full potential," said the Commission.
It went on to say that further transparency in the accounting would also allow for a clear check of public funding and to assure that only compatible state-aid flows into port financing. The statement went on: "It should be noted that while compatible state-aid is of great importance to port development, on the other side, the Commission cannot allow for distortion of competition in Europe."
The Commission is considering a better focused regulatory framework at EU level to ensure a more systematic implementation of the EU Treaty rules on access to the port services market.
The Transport White Paper adopted by the Commission in 2011 looks ahead to the establishment of a Single European Transport Area, with a framework for ports included in the initiative. An assessment on the impact on ports services of a revision to the existing EU framework is expected to be completed at the end of 2012. The assessment involves extensive consultation with stakeholders and the conclusion of various fact-finding studies. It will also rely on dialogue with the social partners in the sector, said the Commission, whereupon it will draw conclusions and come with fine-tuned proposals in 2013.
The proposals relate to the EU 'Blue Belt' initiative which is aimed at simplifying administrative processes in European ports and also to the implementation of the Transport Trans-European Networks (TEN-T), a single, multimodal network that integrates land, sea and air transport networks throughout the European Union.