Improving EU Port Services

Improvements at 319 key seaports along Europe’s coastline could save the European economy up to €10 billion by 2030 and cut journey times, says the Commission, which has put forward a new initiative to cut red tape at ports, build better connections with rail and other transport networks and encourage environmentally friendly vessels.

There are in total 1,200 seaports in Europe. In 2011, around 3.7 billion tonnes of cargo transited through European ports, as well as 385 million maritime passengers. 74% of the goods entering or leaving Europe go by sea.

However, one fifth of this trade currently passes through just three ports: Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp. This is causing congestion and delays.

The initiative has two parts:
First, a legislative proposal targeting 319 key European ports, which the Commission believes can create a viable European ports network capable of supporting Europe's internal market.

This is accompanied by Communication containing an Action Plan. This contains eight additional actions to be undertaken to address major challenges facing ports.

Legislative Proposal

Port Service Providers

Access to the port services market must be based on transparent, non-discriminatory, and objective requirements. Providers of port services might be required to comply with minimum requirements to perform the corresponding port service, including adequate professional qualifications and normal and safe equipment.

Where the minimum requirements include specific local knowledge or acquaints with local conditions, the managing body of the port should ensure that adequate access to relevant training exists.

Managing Body of the Port

The managing body of the port needs to treat providers of port services equally and act in a transparent manner. The managing body might grant or refuse the right to provide port services on the basis of the minimum requirements, and any refusal would need to be duly justified.

The managing body might limit the number or providers of port services in certain cases: when there is scarcity or reserved use of land when land constitutes an essential port facility to provide the service; or in case of public service obligations, when the absence of limitation can obstruct the performance of the obligations assigned to the providers of port services.

When a managing body provides port services itself or through a legally distinct entity which it directly or indirectly controls, the Member State should entrust the adoption of the decision limiting the number of providers of port services to an independent authority; otherwise the number of providers could not be less than two.

Any limitation of the number of providers for a port service would follow a selection procedure which would be open to all interested parties, non-discriminatory and transparent.

Public Service Obligations

Member States might decide to impose public service obligations related to port services on providers in order to ensure the availability of the service without interruption during the day, the night, the week and the year; the availability of the service to all users; and the affordability of the service for certain categories of users.

Member States would designate the competent authorities within their territory to impose such public service obligations, which could be the managing body of the port.


The Chapter on market access in the proposal would not apply to cargo handling services and passenger services, for which relevant procedures are set in the Directive on the award of concessions.

Financial Transparency and Autonomy

The proposal extends the freedom of ports to levy charges and reinforces the need for transparency in public funding. The Regulation would give more autonomy to port authorities, in particular regarding the setting of charges and the allocation of resources.

Relations between Public Authorities and Managing Bodies

The financial relations between public authorities and a managing body that receives public funds should be reflected in a transparent way in the accounts, showing the use which these public funds have been attributed to.

Where the managing body of the port that receives public funds provides port services itself, it would need to keep the accounts of each port service activity separate from the accounts of its other activities.

Where public funds are paid as a compensation for a public service obligation, they would be shown separately in the relevant accounts and might not be transferred to any other service or business activity.

Port Service Charges

The charges for the services provided by an internal operator and the charges levied by providers of port service, in cases of limitation of the number of providers which have not been designated on the basis of procedures which are open, transparent and non-discriminatory, should be set in a transparent and non-discriminatory way. These charges would reflect the conditions on a competitive relevant market and would not be disproportionate to the economic value of the service provided.

The payment of the port service charges might be integrated in other payments; in this case, the amount of the port service charge would need to remain easily identifiable by the user of the port service.

Port Infrastructure Charges

The managing body of the port may levy a port infrastructure charge. The payment of this charge might be integrated in other payments, but would need to remain easily identifiable by the user of the port infrastructure.

The structure and the level of port infrastructure charges should be defined in an autonomous way by the managing body according to its own commercial strategy and investment plan reflecting competitive conditions of the relevant market and in accordance with State aid rules.

Port User’s Advisory Committee

The managing body of each port would establish a committee of representatives of operators of waterborne vessels, cargo owners or other port users which are requested to pay an infrastructure charge or a port service charge or both, called the "port users' advisory committee".

On an annual basis and prior to the setting of charges, the managing body regarding port infrastructure charges, and the providers of port services regarding port service charges, would need to consult the port users' advisory committee on the structure and level of such charges.

Independent Supervisory Body

Member States would ensure that an independent supervisory body monitors and supervises the application of this Regulation on their territory. The independent supervisory bodies of the different MS would exchange information about their work and decision-making principles and practices in order to facilitate a uniform implementation of this Regulation.

The Communication

The Communication identifies the main challenges facing the sector and contains eight recommended actions: 
• Action 1: Use the future corridor structures of the new guidelines for the development of the TEN-T network to identify priority investments under the "Connecting Europe Facility" to connect ports to rail, inland waterways and roads
• Action 2: Strengthen the alignment of transport projects funded under the Structural and Cohesion Funds giving priority to projects on port access and hinterland connections
• Action 3: Check the correct application of the future Directive on concession and public contracts in the port sector
• Action 4: Support administrative simplification in ports 
• Action 5:  Clarify the application of the EU state aid rules in the port sector
• Action 6: Adaptation to change to be discussed as appropriate with the social partners in the framework of the European Social Dialogue
• Action 7: Promote innovation, monitor performance and examine and discuss human resource needs, including health and safety, training and qualification challenges in EU ports 
• Action 8: Support a more consistent application of environmentally differentiated port infrastructure charges

Next Steps

The proposal for a Regulation must be approved by the European Parliament and Member States before being adopted under the normal legislative procedure. It should apply with effect from 1 July 2015.

No later than three years after the entry into force of the Regulation, the Commission will present a report to the Parliament and Council on the functioning and effect of this Regulation, accompanied, if appropriate, by relevant proposals.