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 also play a crucial role both in the exchange of goods within the internal market and in linking peripheral and island areas with the mainland. But ports are not only great for moving goods around, they also 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.
Nevertheless the sector is facing major challenges in terms of congestion, traffic growth and investment. The EU needs good performing ports across all maritime regions. Intra-EU connections can suffer from congestion and result in extra costs for shippers, transport operators and consumers if there are bottlenecks in ports due to the lack of high quality infrastructure or low performing port services.
The new TEN-T network guidelines have identified 329 key seaports along Europe’s coastline that will become part of a unified network boosting growth and competitiveness in Europe's Single Market. The Connecting Europe Facility financial instrument will provide up to € 26 billion to support transport infrastructures, including ports and connections of port with the hinterland, for the period 2014-2020.
The Commission adopted on 23 May a new initiative aimed at improving port operations and onward transport connections at these 329 key seaports. This initiative proposes an integrated strategy combining non legislative and legislative measures. The proposed legal framework will protect port operators against legal uncertainties and unfair competition and help them to upgrade their services and facilities as well as giving them more financial autonomy. By introducing more transparency, it will ease access to port services and attract investments - this proposal could save the European economy up to €10 billion by 2030 and help develop new short sea links.
This strategy also includes measures to promote the social dialogue between port workers and their employees to address issues such as health and safety at work, training and qualifications. An EU social dialogue committee has been established and met for the first time on 19 June 2013. A third key action of this strategy includes the facilitation of investments in ports, rail, river and road connections to ports by integrating ports into the future governance structure and by using the new financial opportunities offered by the Connecting Europe Facility.
A fourth key action is to simplify procedures in ports, in particular by avoiding unnecessary controls by customs for the movement of goods within the internal market. The main instrument to assess the EU status of goods will be a harmonised cargo manifest to be introduced in June 2015. Other actions aim at raising the environmental profile of ports by providing guidelines and promote the exchange of good practices and to define a port research and innovation agenda which can be used in the Horizon 2020 programme to encourage innovation in ports.