Seaports are a key part of the EU’s trade network. Between 2000 and 2013, the EU invested 6.8 billion euros in ports. A new report by European Court of Auditors (ECA) found that the port development strategies put in place by the Member States and the Commission did not provide enough information to allow effective capacity planning to be carried out. This had led to EU co-financed investments in port infrastructure being ineffective and unsustainable, with a high risk of around 400 million euros invested being wasted.
Road and rail connections to port hinterlands were often missing or inadequate, meaning that further public funding will be needed to make the initial port investments work well. The report also found that the Commission had not taken the necessary action in the area of state aid and customs procedures to allow ports to compete on a level playing field.
The report includes the following recommendations:
▪ Put in place a monitoring of core port capacity, taking account of the Member States’ plans for implementing their long-term strategies;
▪ Revise the current number of 104 ‘core ports’ which are necessary to maintain an adequate level of accessibility for the EU as a whole;
▪ Set out an EU-wide port development plan for core ports, maritime waterways and canals;
▪ Work with the Member States to reduce the administrative burden and delays in project selection and implementation by promoting the principle of a national ‘one-stop-shop’ for the issuing, or refusal, of all permits and authorisations for port infrastructure-related investments. Moreover, a ‘tacit agreement’ principle (e.g. of 2 years) should be implemented as soon as possible;
▪ Strictly apply the ESIF Common Provisions Regulation and the CEF Regulation on financial corrections due to underperforming investments for the 2014-2020 period;
▪ Assess the possibility of excluding EU funding for port infrastructure for container transhipment and storage (e.g. construction of quays, docks and storage capacities) during the 2014-2020 period. In addition, superstructures which are not within the public remit should be excluded from EU funding, as these should be considered a commercial environment;
▪ Prioritise EU co-financing from both CEF and ESIF spending to core ports to improve their connections to their hinterlands;
▪ Fund port infrastructures other than connections to hinterlands only on the condition that there is a clearly established need, where EU added value is demonstrated and where there is a sufficiently large private investment component secured in the overall investment envelope;
▪ Ensure that all necessary loan information on proposed EIB loans is shared between the EIB and the Commission to facilitate robust assessments;
▪ Internally clarify, and consistently implement, the procedure for determining whether critical remarks should lead to a negative opinion on a proposed EIB loan;
▪ Issue state aid guidelines for seaports;
▪ Ensure consistency in the treatment of user-specific port superstructures;
▪ Increase the number of desk-based state aid investigations on ports and follow-up of earlier state aid decisions to ensure that the conditions present at the outset remain;
▪ Member States should systematically notify the Commission of all public financial support to ports in accordance with EU state aid rules;
▪ Ask Member States to periodically provide specific information on the type and number of customs procedures at individual core ports in order to assess whether ports are being treated equally;
▪ Improve the competitive position of maritime transport compared to other transport modes by further simplifying maritime transport and customs formalities, in particular by moving towards an EU ‘single window’.
Thank you & Best Regards,
Eng. Dimitrios Nikolaos Spanos
Lead Maritime Auditor / Principal Surveyor
Member of IRCA, IIMS, ELINT, HELMEPA & Nautical Institute