How can the EU unlock investments in its maritime economy?

Growing demand in both tourism and trade means that the EU cannot waste any time in properly regulating its ports, says Gesine Meissner.

Gesine Meissner | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Gesine Meissner

21 Mar 2017

Ports are vitally important for Europe's economy: 37 per cent of EU trade and 74 per cent of imports and exports of cargo require access to seaports. Evidently, European legislation has to work on common standards for the organisation of ports, investments and market access. 

In 2014, the Commission proposed a third draft for a port package, which was adopted by Parliament two years later. The new regulations provide a framework for the liberalisation of several port services - among them waste collection in port reception facilities, towage or refuelling. 

Equally important, the package includes common standards on financial transparency and commercial efficiency can now be improved through more competition.


Agreeing on these rules was a clear success. However, we need to acknowledge that some problems prevail, such as the question of private investments in port infrastructure. One example: Recently the European shipping week brought together industry representatives and European regulators to discuss issues of mutual concern. 

Here, a point was frequently shared: Maritime tourism and the manufacturing industry need good port infrastructure - for instance with regard to port reception facilities. 

Every port must have facilities to handle the management of ship waste and garbage. Ports in Europe have systems in place and not every port accepts the same types of waste, which is detrimental for environmental performance and poses difficulties for ship owners.

Investments in infrastructure are needed to make sure ports can accept every kind of waste in order to reduce environmental damage and to minimise disparities between Nordic, Baltic and Mediterranean ports. 

There needs to be more potential for private investments, which requires further efforts from the legislators. Promoting free market access for port-related services and infrastructure is only one part of the solution. The second part concerns EU rules in the framework of Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). The programme provides enormous amounts of money.

Unfortunately, plenty of useful projects are not included, because procedures for application are overcomplicated. Member states and the Commission should be encouraged to choose and select the right projects with high European added value.

A second point to stress is that, as vessels change, different kinds of energy supply are needed. Investment is not only required in infrastructure, but logically also in shipping, for example with regard to alternative fuelling systems. Take hydrogen: The EU agreed to promote hydrogen fuel cells and technologies until 2024.

First, hydrogen can be produced and refilled during the shipping itself by using solar or wind power. 

Second, methanol as a maritime fuel has the big advantage to only produce water and carbon dioxide when burned.

Third, to run a container ship a vast amount of electricity is needed for lights, computers, and sensors. Usually the engine is the sole energy source for lights and the ship's instruments. Hydrogen could be used to establish a decentralised energy grid, which would increase efficiency, safety on board and save materials constructing a ship.

At this point in time, hydrogen is still a novel fuelling source for most sectors. In 2010, the first passenger ship completely fuelled by hydrogen went into operation. In terms of container shipping the technology is not in use yet. It will take time to develop the necessary infrastructure to use it on a large scale. 

A step in the right direction was the clean power for transport package, in which I was actively involved. It stipulates that hydrogen, in member states who choose to develop it, and LNG for ships has to be developed in the EU by 2025. It is a good solution, although I would have liked to see it even much earlier.

It shows that the legal groundwork has to be worked on immediately. Coming back to hydrogen, I support the EU's decision to improve the research by using EU funds and including money of the private sector in the context of public-private partnerships. 

In the end, market dynamics will determine if these energy sources can succeed. It is our obligation as politicians to set the right legal framework, which can unlock investment, facilitate research and ensure a safe implementation.

These issues emphasise that there is still a lot of room for improvement. It would be preferable not to wait another decade to see new measures being introduced - we cannot be complacent.

In times of growing demand in tourism and trade we need to respond to new challenges, such as improving environmental performance and maintaining healthy economic circumstance. Finding the right balance will dictate European policies in this field for the years to come and provides possibilities for innovation and investment opportunities.


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