Parliament is 'critical player' in new EU port services regulation

Written by Knut Fleckenstein on 24 February 2015 in Opinion

Knut Fleckenstein explains why Europe's ports can impact on the competitiveness of the EU maritime sector as a whole.

Nearly two years into the commission's third attempt to regulate ports at European level, parliament is now the critical player. The port services regulation, commonly known as 'port package III', has survived commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's regulatory fitness and performance programme (REFIT) and is therefore still on the table. The council adopted its general approach last October and now, parliament remains the only unknown variable.

The time given to us in the last legislature was too short to reach compromises on all crucial elements before the elections. The new mandate brought in many new faces: a new transport and tourism committee chair, new coordinators in most groups, as well as new shadow rapporteurs. Taking this into account, it was clear from the outset that we would have to take time in resuming our work on the issue.

"We will not make a hasty decision on the ports regulation, while being left in the dark about important subjects such as port labour and state aid"

However, the new setup is not the only reason for the slow pace. From the beginning, I have stressed the link between the port services regulation and state aid rules. The legal uncertainty regarding state aid rules in the port sector is a high concern for us. I am not prepared to make any decisions on the regulation without a signal from the commission as to what approach it plans to take in terms of state aid. We need a solution that secures investments for a sustainable port infrastructure, which is essential for ports to operate properly.

Even though cargo handling is excluded from the market access chapter, I am still very worried about the liberalisation approach taken under previous transport commissioner Siim Kallas. Some stakeholders have criticised this chapter, saying it has become an empty package. For others, it is still the source of major concern. This poses the question, why not delete this part of the package and focus on the key issue of transparency instead?

The commission has recently investigated, or is still investigating, how dock labour is organised in the different member states. We have already seen in Portugal that the disintegration of worker pools is followed by leased and temporary labour arrangements and social insecurity.

After meeting with new transport commissioner Violeta Bulc, I am cautiously confident that we will be able to find a socially sound solution and that she will be able to advance the dialogue between DG mobility and transport and DG competition.

I am in full support of regulating financial transparency requirements at European level. Often cited as the prerequisite for sector specific state aid rules, I am committed to finding a solution that provides clarity about the structure of port service charges and transparency for infrastructure charges. It goes without saying that ports need to be transparent when it comes to the involvement or use of public money.

MEPs will work as fast as the commission permits us. We will not make a hasty decision on the ports regulation, while being left in the dark about important subjects such as port labour and state aid. On the other hand, we are willing to work constructively together, as long as the commission takes our concerns seriously and that our mutual aim is to find a solution beneficial for the port sector, concentrating on the competitiveness of the EU maritime sector as a whole.


About the author

Knut Fleckenstein (S&D, DE) is parliament’s rapporteur on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports

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