Many of the issues that confront UK ports are affected by policy and legislation from the European Commission and European Parliament.
While UK ports receive virtually no financial assistance from the public purse, the situation is very different in most continental ports. Despite the fact that we are an island nation, UK ports compete with continental ports for certain types of traffic. UKMPG members are therefore very concerned by the lack of a ‘level playing field’ between UK and Continental ports. We welcomed the Commission’s Communication on Ports Policy, published in October 2007, which confirmed that competition among ports needs to be on a fair basis. UKMPG is awaiting the production of the Commission’s guidance on the application of state-aid rules to ports with a high degree of interest.
At the same time, UKMPG believes it is essential that legislation aimed at regulating less commercial ports on the continent does not cause unintended damage to the UK’s thriving commercial sector. On this basis, UKMPG strongly opposes the proposed EU Port Services Regulation. The proposal aims to regulate market access to port services, port charges and financial transparency. We believe the regulation could have serious negative consequences for job creation and investment in the EU port sector.
The proposal goes against the Commission’s aim to create ‘Better Regulation’, ignores the principles of subsidiarity and ignores the European Parliament, which has twice rejected similar proposals. Given the complexity and strategic importance of the EU port sector, a one size fits all approach regulation at the EU level will not work.
The text as a whole, even if heavily amended, cannot deliver on its stated aims. Instead, it will create severe legal uncertainty, reduce investment and will ultimately be detrimental to the safety standards and working conditions which currently exist in EU ports. EU ports may have different ownership structures, but all require a high level of confidence in a stable legal and policy framework in the long term if they are to operate safely and contribute to the EU agenda for jobs and growth. The Port Services Regulation proposal does not provide such confidence and risks leaving a legacy of legal and practical difficulties across the EU.
Instead, UKMPG supports a return to the previous EU ports policy approach based round application of the general provisions of the Treaty reinforced, where appropriate, by guidelines on state aids. This so called “soft law” approach has worked well and helped EU ports to prosper during a difficult economic period.