Europe's ports are vital gateways, linking its transport corridors to the rest of the world. 74% of goods entering or leaving Europe go by sea, and Europe boasts some of the finest port facilities in the world. Ports play an equally important role to support the exchange of goods within the internal market and in linking peripheral and island areas with the mainland of Europe. Ports are not only great for moving goods around, they also constitute energy hubs for conventional and renewable energies. 400 million passengers embark and disembark in European ports every year. Ports generate employment; 1.5 million workers are employed in European ports, with the same amount again employed indirectly across the 22 EU maritime Member States.
The EU needs good performing ports across all its maritime regions. Bottlenecks in ports and their hinterland due to inadequate infrastructure or services can result in extra congestion, extra emission and extra costs for shippers, transport operators, consumers and society as a whole.
The new guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) have identified along Europe’s coastline that will become part of a unified network boosting growth and competitiveness in Europe's Single Market.
The Commission adopted on 23 May 2013 an initiative aimed at improving port operations and onward transport connections at the 329 key seaports which belongs to the trans-European transport network. This initiative is progressively implemented through a set of legislative measures and non-legislative measures as follow:
Regulation (EU) 2017/352 of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers establishing a framework for the provision of port services and common rules on the financial transparency of ports. The aim is to level the playing field in the sector, protect port operators against uncertainties and create a climate more conducive to efficient public and private investments. The Regulation defines the conditions under which the freedom to provide port services applies, for instance the type of minimum requirements that can be imposed for safety or environmental purposes, the circumstances in which the number of operators can be limited and the procedure to select the operators in such cases. It introduces common rules on the transparency of public funding and of charging for the use of port infrastructure and port services, notably by making sure that the port users are consulted. It introduces in each Member State a new mechanism to handle complaints and disputes between ports stakeholders. Finally it requires all port services providers to ensure adequate training to employees.
Application and modernization of the State aid rules, in the context of the competition policy. The decisions relevant to ports and forming the decision case practice are available here. In May 2016 the Commission published the Notice on the notion of State Aid, which gives guidance on when public investments do not involve State aid. An Analytical grid for ports infrastructure was published on 2 December 2016 to provide further guidance on the rules and case practice applicable in the port sector. The Commission has also adopted on 17 May 2017 an updated version of the General Block Exemption Regulation. The new regulation gives more flexibility to Member States to decide public funding of certain port investments without having to seek a prior Commission's approval.
Promotion and support of the European social dialogue between port workers and their employees and of training. The Commission helps the EU Social Dialogue Committee in the Port Sector to work on health & safety, training and qualifications, gender issues and promotion of female employment and attractiveness to young workers. Representatives of port employees and port employers work together for instance to produce common guidelines for training as well as national health and safety requirements. Another project of the Committee, financed by the Commission, is identifying the key challenges that EU ports are facing and how the industry is adapting to change and preparing for the future.
Support to better planning, financing and funding of port infrastructure and their connexions in the trans-European network. The Commission has integrated ports in the corridor work plans foreseen by Article 46 of the guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network (Regulation 1315/2013) and provides targeted grants and other forms of financial supports to port infrastructure projects by using the Connecting Europe Facility. More than € 1 billion have already been awarded since 2014 to support rail or inland waterways connecting ports with the hinterland, basic port infrastructure, innovation and green port projects.
Initiatives to simplify procedures in ports. Improving the digital information flows and reducing administrative burden is vital to ensure efficient ship port calls and throughput of cargo. To contribute to this goal the Commission intends to establish a European Maritime Single Window environment with technical and legal frameworks for the submission and re-use of regulatory reporting information, including the eManifest information for customs. This initiative is currently under assessment and the proposal for the way forward is expected to follow in summer 2018.
Initiatives to raise the environmental of ports by promoting the exchange of good practices. As part of its research and innovation agenda the Commission launched in 2016 the "Port of the Future" call as part of the Horizon 2020 programme to encourage innovation in ports and the links with port cities.
Regulation (EU) 2017/352 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 February 2017 establishing a framework for the provision of port services and common rules on the financial transparency of ports