EU Ports Face Renewed Market-Opening Push After Previous Vetoes

European Union regulators revived a push to boost competition at the bloc’s seaports following two failed attempts in the past decade, saying the market-opening steps would bolster an economy mired in recession.

The European Commission proposed to open procedures for selecting port-service providers, prevent possible price abuses by operators with exclusive rights and establish a port users’ advisory committee. The draft law covers 319 EU ports -- from Rotterdam and Hamburg in the north to Genoa and Athens in the south -- deemed a key part of the European transport network.

“We are facing major challenges in terms of congestion, traffic growth and investment,” EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said today in Brussels. “These proposals will bring Europe’s port services into the 21st century, help attract investment and create jobs.”

With 74 percent of the goods that enter or leave the EU going by sea and a fifth of that amount being handled by Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp, the commission is seeking to address an imbalance in port performances to prevent extra costs for shippers and consumers. The proposal could save the European economy as much as 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) by 2030, according to the commission, the EU’s regulatory arm.

The draft legislation is a tamer version of previous proposals that the European Parliament vetoed in 2003 and 2006 following protests by dock workers concerned about possible job losses. The failed market-opening plans included a controversial provision that would have allowed workers on ships to unload them as part of a “self-handling” right.

Dock Labor

The new proposal, which must be approved by the EU Parliament and governments, omits this provision. The latest plan also excludes a previous draft measure that would have let cargo-handling companies hire the staff of their choice regardless of local arrangements on dock labor.

The new draft law’s market-opening provisions cover six types of port services: mooring, piloting, towing, dredging, bunkering and waste management. In the area of investment, the proposal would extend the freedom of ports to impose infrastructure levies while seeking more transparency in the way charges are set and public funds are used.

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