ANNUAL REPORT 2006-2007
4. Sustainable development of ports - Maritime Green Paper brings new élan
The development of Motorways of the Sea implicitly begs the controversial question whether traffic in Europe should be concentrated on a number of hub ports or should be distributed over a wider set of smaller ports. This question is also posed by the Maritime Policy Green Paper which the European Commission published in June 2006 and on which a consultation runs until June 2007.
ESPOís answer is very clear: it is not for EU decision-makers to indicate where port development should take place, tempting as it may be to move dots on the port map of Europe. Instead, the bottom-up principle should be fostered by which project proposals are based on market needs, taking into account objective economic assessments, and designated by local port management - which is closest to the market - in conjunction with regional or national authorities where this may be applicable. The ITMMA report moreover demonstrates that the present European port system shows a healthy balance between large, medium-sized and small ports, which all have their specific role to play.
Besides this general warning, which equally applies to the port policy consultation, ESPO has given the Green Paper of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Commissioner Joe Borg a warm welcome. It is not only the first Commission publication with literary ambitions - a relief compared to the usual dry bureaucratic communications - but it also underlines the importance of seaports for European trade and welfare. Most importantly, the Green Paper dares to name some fundamental problems which have for a long time been ignored or considered taboo.
One of the principal fields where this is the case is that of the environment. Ports are frequently located close to valuable nature conservation areas. Harmonising ecological and economic objectives has proved to be a difficult learning exercise for many ports resulting often in conflict situations. European seaports have, however, made considerable progress in achieving high environmental standards and improving environmental management and have over the years succeeded in developing constructive agreements with NGOs and local stakeholders leading to win-win situations for nature and ports.
Ever since its existence, ESPO has taken the lead in stimulating such pro-active behaviour. With the publication in February 2007 of a specific Code of Practice on the Birds and Habitats Directives, ESPO has continued the line started in 1994 with the first general Code of Practice on the environment which was fully revised and updated in 2003. The recent addition in the list of ESPO publications draws from practical experience of port managers on how to work within the existing legal framework.
The Code, however, also lists a number of outstanding issues which can only be solved through policy or legislative initiatives. Legal uncertainties with regard to the application of nature conservation legislation such as the Birds and the Habitats Directives continue to cause substantial delays for many projects, contributing to the growing mismatch between demand and supply of port and port-related capacity in European seaports as outlined in the market section of this report. The Green Paper is one of the first EU documents which recognises this problem.
The need to reinforce the legal status of port development projects is also the main message of a DG TREN-commissioned study on the impact of environmental legislation on ports and waterways, which was carried out by the Antwerp professor Eric Van Hooydonk.
A major opportunity in this respect is the review of the Birds and Habitats Directives scheduled for the second half of 2007. Although indications are that so far these Directives will only be assessed in terms of their ecological merits, ESPO is making a plea to also take into consideration their effect on Europeís economy.
The Maritime Policy Green Paper introduces maritime spatial planning as a tool to create greater legal certainty for port development. ESPO believes there may be added value in this concept for ports provided it is not only based on ecological criteria, refrains from port planning at EU level, avoids overlap with existing planning instruments and simplifies current consent procedures for port development projects and port operations such as dredging.
ESPO however regrets that the environmental pillar of maritime spatial planning has already formed the object of a legislative proposal, in the form of the Marine Strategy Directive, whereas the broader policy context is still to be written. ESPO has presented a number of amendments on this Directive proposal but would essentially prefer to have a time-out on the proposal until the follow-up of the Green Paper is clear. The latter will take shape in autumn 2007.
Other new proposals in the field of the environment have been calling over the period 2006-2007 for action by ESPO, such as the Air Quality Directive and related initiatives on ship emissions, as well as the Waste Framework Directive. Especially on the latter proposal, ESPO has been actively campaigning to obtain recognition that sediments which do not contain hazardous material should not be treated as waste and therefore not undergo costly treatment. This line was followed by the European Parliament which adopted an amendment in this sense during its first reading, but finds considerably more resistance in Council.
Dredging activities in ports, which are vital both for maintenance and development purposes, are equally threatened by the Commissionís Directive proposal for Environmental Quality Standards for priority substances and other polluntants, the so-called "Daughter Directive" of the Water Framework Directive.
Although most port authorities these days invest considerably in the environment, a dimension which still tends to be underestimated is that of the overall perception and attractiveness of seaports to the general public. Another merit of the Maritime Policy Green Paper is that it has brought this theme to the forefront by encouraging partnerships with tourism, recreation and heritage sectors in order to make European citizens more familiar with the world of ports and shipping and to foster a genuine maritime identity.
Creating a positive image of the port sector and improving public acceptance of ports is also one of the prime objectives of ESPO, which is why it decided to support - together with EFIP - the international workshop on the restoration of public support for ports organised by the European Institute of Maritime and Transport Law at the Antwerp University on 16 May 2007. During this event, ESPO and EFIP presented a public declaration to representatives of the European Commission, inviting them to facilitate, in consultation with representative sector organisations, initiatives for the restoration of public support for ports within the framework of future port and maritime policies.
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