EU Gets Aggressive on Port Congestion

EU Gets Aggressive on Port Congestion

LONDON — The European Union on Thursday sent a strong signal that it intends to improve service standards and efficiency at ports to spread traffic more evenly across the European waterfront and ease congestion.

Noting that 20 percent of Europe’s seaborne trade passes through three ports — Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp — the European Commission said, “This imbalance between port performance results in congestion and extra costs for shippers, transport operators and consumers.”

The EU’s executive agency plans to issue guidelines to improve smaller, second-tier ports, including legal measures “to prevent possible price abuses by operators with exclusive rights.”

The guidelines, which will apply to 319 ports, will extend the freedom of ports to levy infrastructure charges and introduce new transparency requirements for how the charges are set and in the use of public funds. “A greater transparency will allow public funds without unduly distorting competition and will help in attracting private investors,” the commission said. 

“More and more ships go to the best performing ports,” EU Transport Commissioner Slim Kallas said. “Congestion builds up on the surrounding roads, and other ports are underutilized. Oceangoing ships are making longer and more inefficient journeys to find the better services. Shipping companies within Europe cannot develop new short-sea links where a fast turnaround at both ends is so important.

The commission also will propose initiatives to cut red tape and reduce administrative formalities in ports before the summer, and will begin talks next month with longshore unions and port employers over work-related issues.

The proposals could save the European economy up to 10 billion euros ($13 billion) by 2030 when traffic is expected to have grown by 50 percent, the commission said. They also will help develop new short-sea routes.

The proposals are a watered-down version of a port reform package more than a decade ago that the European Parliament rejected twice, most recently in 2006, following strikes and demonstrations by dockworkers across Europe and opposition from several member states and port authorities.

The current proposals make no mention of cargo-handling, the most controversial issue in the original reform package.

The Port of Rotterdam has already commented on the package, criticizing the proposal to put port supervisors in every EU member state.

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