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Ports' Forum Workshops
Harilaos points out that one of the main aims of European transport policy is to encourage the use of shortsea shipping to reduce congestion on landside transport infrastructure.
He then gives examples of a series of initiatives which will potentially have the effect of making sea transport less competitive. He mentions the ill-conceived initiative to introduce a standardised European Intermodal Loading Unit; the various initiatives on security under which the commission is seeking to impose additional costs on ports over and above what was considered necessary by the IMO negotiators; and the knee-jerk reaction to the Prestige.
He might have added environmental legislation
At a seminar in Brussels, I heard a senior official from DG (Environment) say that “ports have been used to getting their own way” and they must brace themselves for tougher measures to pro-mote conservation and biodiversity.
Aggressive implementation of the Habitats Directive is increasing the costs of development of new port facilities which are urgently needed, and there are worrying signs that the implementation of the Water Framework Directive will interfere with essential dredging work. The overall picture is one of remarkable incoherence: a strategy of seeking to make sea transport more competitive, set against a string of initiatives which will have the opposite effect.
The one area where I take issue with Harilaos is the ill-fated Port Services Directive. The short article below his piece describes the failure of the directive as a setback for competition and efficiency, and includes a disparaging reference to opposition from “various private ports”.
The UK port industry is the largest in Europe and the group which represents the major commercial port operators in this country was united in its opposition to the directive, and our membership includes trust ports as well as plcs. Our industry thrives on competition, and our shipowners are on record as saying that they regard our ports as the most efficient in Europe.
The commission maintains that the operations of certain (unnamed) ports are in breach of the principles of the treaty. If that is indeed the case, other remedies are available - Link. To use the blunt instrument of a directive to deal with certain isolated problems was gross overkill.
As far as the UK is concerned, at best it would have entailed unnecessary bureaucracy, and at worst it would have done serious harm.
The commission is now saying that it will do what it should have done at the start, namely take action against individual ports where there are thought to be problems.