ANNUAL REPORT 2006-2007
2. A port policy for all seasons - Ten years after the Kinnock Green Paper
In 1997 the then Commissioner for Transport, Neil Kinnock, launched the first substantial European discussion paper on seaports. Before the publication of this Green Paper on Sea Ports and Maritime Infrastructure, the Commission had produced mainly factual reports on the organisation of the sector which were prepared by ESPOís predecessor, the Community Port Working Group (CPWG). Only the European Parliament commissioned in 1993 a genuine policy study, covering a broad range of issues. It is still a very readable and topical paper today but one which was not given any concrete follow-up at the time.
The Kinnock Green Paper was narrower in focus and outlined three principal areas on which a European seaport policy could be based: integration of ports in the Trans-European Transport Networks, financing and charging and market access to port services. It was the latter subject which would gain most attention, four years later, with the publication of the ports package and its Directive proposal on market access to port services.
The story of the port services Directive is sufficiently known but still it is in a sense remarkable that ten years after the Green Paper a policy for seaports has not materialised yet. This stands in stark contrast to the airport sector for instance, where over roughly the same period of time a series of measures has been developed starting with a Directive on ground-handling services, followed by a Regulation on air navigation services, State aid guidelines and - early 2007 - a package of measures which contains a Directive proposal on airport charging as well as recommendations on airport capacity.
The implementation of a European policy for seaports got stuck in the first phase, with the port services proposal introduced by the late Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio which was - at least in its original edition - very much inspired by the airport groundhandling Directive.
The experience with the ports package has demonstrated that - although at first sight parallels exist - seaports are very different from airports. There is first of all the often underestimated but very influential historical factor. Most seaports have developed over centuries and are much more embedded in local structures and cultures than airports. The scale of market developments and especially of investments is moreover considerably different and, perhaps most significantly, stakeholder interests and attitudes vary.
The reason why airports have an important legislative framework is that there has been a continued strong demand from the usersí side to regulate the sector. Whilst this was initially also the case for seaports, the picture has changed considerably during the last years due to vertical integration processes and increased competition, as demonstrated by the market analysis section of this Annual Report. In addition, trade unions in the port sector are traditionally more militant and this has played an important role in rejecting both port servicesí Directives.
All this does in ESPOís view not mean that seaports can do without a sector-specific EU policy framework. The sector is in many aspects too important for the European Union to leave it governed by the current unclear patchwork of measures or subject to case-by-case initiatives without an overall and coherent policy vision.
This is why after the withdrawal of the port servicesí Directive last year ESPO proposed a broad-ranging consultation on a future EU port policy. This initiative was welcomed by Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot at the ESPO annual conference in Stockholm early June 2006 and implemented through a series of regional thematic workshops held in Antwerp, Hamburg, Lisbon, Valencia, Naples and Tallinn from November 2006 to May 2007. Themes included market access to port services, the role of port authorities, port financing and charging, sustainable port development and the environment, port labour and technical-nautical services, ports and the supply chain, competition with non-EU ports and the public perception of seaports.
The experience from these workshops is - from the point of view of ESPO - a broadly positive one. Although perhaps not all issues were
discussed as openly as desired, the workshops did show a great deal of consensus among stakeholders, not only on the actual themes, but also on the instruments that should be used to create an adequate European port policy. Leaving aside the field of sustainable development, where implementation problems and policy conflicts created by EU environmental legislation can possibly only be remedied by a review of existing law, most stakeholders seem to agree that hard legislation is generally not the right approach for the very diverse port industry.
The port sector would, however, benefit from clarification of the rules of the game enshrined in the EC Treaty, in terms of competition, market access, freedom to provide services, freedom of employment and the use of public funding, to name but a few areas. This is a task which lies fully within the competence of the European Commission and can be undertaken through the use of so-called "soft law" instruments, which are not legally binding but aim at indirect legal effects and - above all - practical effects. Examples are guidelines and interpretative communications.
In addition, the Commission can act as a catalyst in stimulating best practice, for instance in the field of environmental management, corporate social responsibility and the promotion of a positive interaction with stakeholders and citizens that live close to ports.
A combination of reviewing existing (environmental) legislation, providing guidance and stimulating best practice is the overall course that ESPO has taken in its input for the Commissionís consultation which will be concluded at the ESPO Annual Conference in Algeciras on 31 May-1 June 2007, one year after its initiation at the Stockholm conference. It is also the line taken by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in its own-initiative report on European seaport policy that was developed in parallel to the consultation exercise.
ESPO hopes that the Commission Communication and Action Plan which are expected to result from the port policy review and are likely to see the light of day in autumn 2007, exactly ten years after the publication of the first Green Paper on seaports, will adopt a similar approach.
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