Focus on ports and maritime can boost EU competitiveness

Developing Europe's port facilities would help stimulate EU integration and economic development, argues Viorica Dăncilă.

By Viorica Dancila

27 May 2015

The development and improvement of European port facilities and other transport links have played an important role in the elimination of economic isolation, facilitated activity specialisation and exchange and favoured the internal division of labour and the development of national and international commerce, therefore building a solid base for economic, political and social relationships between the member states.

At EU level, a developed and interconnected port network is vital for the territorial and social cohesion of the member states and encouraging competition and economic growth, by stimulating the labour market and developing commerce and tourism.

With around 1200 maritime ports, located along over 70,000 km of coast, Europe is one of the continents that makes the best use of harbour zones.


74 per cent of imported and exported European products pass through these ports, and 37 per cent of all EU commercial trade transits through maritime ports. Approximately three million people work directly or indirectly in this sector in 22 countries.

The movement of goods on waterways stimulates not only the activity of commercial ports and maritime and river transport companies, it also engages a whole range of national and regional economies, including industry, agriculture, trade, construction, transport and, indirectly, influences the social living standards determined by maritime trade.

In my opinion, a real challenge in terms of the development of European port facilities and transport links is related to the integration of environmental and infrastructure development objectives. 

In this regard, I informed the commission that local and regional authorities often have problems providing land for the expansion of port activities and improvement of heavy ships access in European ports, while respecting European environmental and biodiversity protection standards.

In this respect, I believe that the EU must aim to ensure better integration of environmental and infrastructure development objectives, with simplified procedures.

The commission's response shows that the EU executive intends to create certain stakeholder consultative platforms this year, including for bodies representing authorities involved in the management of ports, in order to identify the best practices and ways to address this challenge.

A main topic on the EU agenda is the continued expansion of the EU and its international interests, which emphasises the importance of connecting the trans-European networks with those of eastern European states and of countries on the Mediterranean coast. 

Transport links are an important pillar of the European integration process, which, once they cover the entire European continent, will stimulate economic development in the EU.

An example of this is short distance sea shipping, which has recorded a steady growth due to improved intermodal connections with the European road and rail network.

In this context, I believe that we need to create a favourable context for the development and improvement of European port facilities by simplifying procedures, because it stimulates European integration and economic development.