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Brussels, 30 September 2010

Maritime transport: Commission requests Italy to ensure that port dues are not discriminatory

The European Commission has decided to request Italy to amend its rules to ensure that port dues applied are no higher for ships sailing to or from non-Italian ports than for ships sailing to or from Italian ports. The Commission considers that current Italian rules are in breach of EU legislation liberalising maritime transport between EU Member States and between Member States and non-EU countries (Regulation 4055/86). The request takes the form of a reasoned opinion under EU infringement rules. If Italy fails to comply with the request within two months, the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.

The EU rules

Regulation 4055/86 has liberalised maritime transport between EU Member States as well as between the Member States and third countries. According to established case law of the European Court of Justice, under Regulation 4055/86 Member States may not apply to intra-European trade port dues higher than those applied to domestic transport. According to the same case law, increased port dues cannot be applied to ships coming from or bound to a port outside the EU, unless this is justified by compelling reasons of public interest.

The reason for this formal request

In Italy a 2009 decree governs port dues for cargo ships. It provides that higher dues are applied to intra-EU trade than to domestic transport. Despite the fact that these increased dues are not being applied in practice, the current decree nevertheless conflicts with EU rules and ship operators do not enjoy legal certainty concerning the level of port dues. Furthermore, higher dues are actually applied to trade with non-European countries. Italy has failed so far to provide the Commission with any specific reasons for this.

The practical effect of non-implementation

As a result of the Italian rules, ship operators have to pay higher port dues on international cargo trade, with the result that higher costs may be passed on to consumers, and have no legal certainly about the level of port dues paid on cargo trade between Italian ports and other Member States' ports.

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