ANNUAL REPORT 2006-2007
1. A year of consultation
The period 2006-2007 will no doubt be remembered as one of intensive consultation on the future of both Europeís policy for ports and for the maritime sector as a whole. With the organisation of six thematic workshops on port-related issues and a Green Paper on maritime policy, the European Commission hasembarked upon a tour of Europe to sound out ideas, proposals and suggestions.
Despite the fact that the European Union celebrates in 2007 the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, seaports have emerged relatively late on the European agenda. The Commissionís modal shift policy and promotion campaign for short sea shipping which both emerged in the early 1990s were the catalysts that brought ports to the forefront.
Initially the emphasis was a negative one, inspired by true or alleged complaints of shipowners, which explains why ports were systematically categorised as "bottlenecks". This narrow focus was most often inspired by local problems in particular ports.
This somehow also characterised the discussion on the 1997 Green Paper on Sea Ports and Maritime Infrastructure and especially on the subsequent ports package which culminated in an aggressive debate on self-handling, in itself a very minor issue. This partial approach did not only ignore the overall added value of ports for Europeís trade, economy and welfare, but also overlooked fundamental market developments such as the scale increase of shipping and the growing influence of intermodal carriers and global terminal operators. Not in the least, problems partially created by European legislation itself, such as in the field of the environment, were for a long time considered taboo.
The Commissionís new approach, both in the context of the port policy review and the maritime policy Green Paper, is refreshingly different. It not only provides room for genuine consultation and debate, it also takes a much broader perspective, doing justice to the significant and multifaceted role seaports play in European society.
ESPO very much encouraged this new way forward and even inspired the Commission to organise the thematic regional workshops that were held from November 2006 to May 2007 in order to heal the sector from the ports package trauma. At the time of publishing this Annual Report, it is too early to predict what the outcomes of the port policy review and the maritime policy Green Paper will be, but the experience with both consultation processes so far is a broadly positive one, showing a great deal of consensus between different actors in the sector. This is already a significant step in the right direction.
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