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Commission has another go at port liberalisation

[ May 24, 2013   //   ]

The European Commission is determined to push through measures to increase competition for a range of services in the port sector – though not cargo handling – in its new ports package published on 23 May.

The package would apply to the 300 or so ports that are designated as part of the Trans-European Transport Network. Where free competiton is impractical, for example because of space constraints operators will be chosen through a tendering process.

In some cases, an internal operator can be designated directly, without the use of competitive procedures. This But previous attempts to liberalise the sector have fallen foul of the dock workers’ unions, who are suspicious of Commission intentions as regards salary and working conditions. The previous moves led to street demonstrations.

However, the Commission has left out one of the most controversial measures, allowing ship owners to self-handle cargo in an attempt to mollify the unions.

The Commission has also launched a social dialogue on dockwork-related issues, with the first meeting due to be held on 19 June in Brussels.

The Port of Rotterdam Authority and its association of port industries, Deltalinqs, say they are concerned at some of the proposals set out in the package, published on 23 May. There would be an independent supervisor for ports in every member state which, says Rotterdam “will lead to a lot of unnecessary procedures and delays.”

The supervisor would be expected to scrutise aspects of the ports’ operations, including tariffs and market access, in the name of promoting competition in and between ports. This, they said, could actually undermine Commission intentions to reduce red tape. The port authority adds: “In the Netherlands, such new supervision is totally superfluous. Following its autonomisation in 2004, the Port Authority signed a covenant with Deltalinqs, after it had been reviewed by the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa). In it, highly efficient and effective procedures for setting port tariffs were agreed. Furthermore, anyone who has a complaint can report it to the NMa.”

The Port of Rotterdam Authority is currently consultating with the Commission and assumes that the Commission’s proposal will be amended on this point, and that the ‘Rotterdam model’ will also be included in the new port package.

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