On December 14, 2016, the European Parliament supported a set of new rules governing ports in the European Union (EU), with financial transparency being in the focus.
The new rules are aimed at making ports in Europe more efficient and attractive to investors. The lack of clear rules on public funding of port infrastructure and charges for using it is said to hold back investment in these facilities.
Applying to over 300 EU seaports in the trans-European transport network, the rules include a requirement for ports to show clearly in their accounting systems the public funds they have received and to improve transparency in the way port services and infrastructure charges are set. EU member states would also have to ensure that an effective procedure is in place to handle complaints.
To deliver high-quality services, the rules include new requirements for port service providers to ensure that employees receive the necessary training, with particular emphasis on health and safety. These training requirements should also be regularly updated to meet the challenges of technological innovation.
“After 15 years of discussion about European ports policy, we have finally found an agreement: existing port management models can be maintained and, for the first time, there is an emphasis on good working conditions, which are a major part of the competitiveness of ports and are non-negotiable for us,” Knut Fleckenstein, rapporteur, European Parliament MEPs, said.
The Regulation on Framework for the provision of port services and financial transparency of ports does not impose a specific management model for ports. However, it does lay down conditions if ports wish to set minimum requirements for services such as towage, mooring, bunkering and the collection of ship-generated waste, or to restrict the number of providers of these services.
Cargo handling and passenger services will also be subject to financial transparency rules, but are exempted from those on the organisation of port services.
In a separate announcement, commenting on the vote, Terje Samuelsen, ETF Dockers’ Section Chair, said: “Indeed, we would have preferred a more stringent text, notably on the protection of workers in case of change of operator and on the good repute of the operators.”
Samuelsen added that it is crucial for ETF Dockers that the attack on the right to strike has been removed from the text of the regulation.
“The regulation sets the basis for dealing with some crucial issues that ports are facing and that have not been properly dealt with so far. For instance, we need a social policy to cope with automation, we need to link state aid to the maritime sector at large to the creation of European employment, we need a sound investment policy able to limit overcapacity. Regrettably, the latest proposal for amending the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) failed to address these challenges, besides being incoherent with the Port Regulation. This make us fear that the EU port policy has no bright outlook,” Torben Seebold, ETF Dockers’ Section Vice-Chair, added.
Furthermore, the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) welcomes the Parliament’s final approval of the port regulation.
“We can now finally turn this page and work on the many challenges European ports are facing today, in particular, the trade facilitation agenda, decarbonisation, investments in ports and their hinterland connections,” Isabelle Ryckbost, ESPO’s Secretary General, said.
ESPO, however, regrets that national governments have not shown more ambition in moving towards a clear framework for port authorities to set their own charges and develop their own financial strategy. European ports believe that the plea for less public funding for ports can only be realised if port authorities can manage themselves their financial situation and decide how to structure and optimize their income, according to the organization.
Even if the final text of the regulation will be giving port authorities in Europe the possibility to determine the level and structure of the port infrastructure charges and to enter into individual negotiations with their customers, it remains to be seen to what extent national governments may limit this negotiating power of port authorities by setting general requirements within their national ports policy, ESPO said.
The rules are now subject to approval by the Council of the EU.