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European Commission


Brussels, 23 May 2013

Europe's Seaports 2030: Challenges Ahead

Ports matter – the key facts

  1. Ports are crucial for the European transport business, for Europe's competitiveness, and have a huge potential for job creation and investment.

  2. Europe's ports are the gateways to the European continent. 74% of extra-EU goods are shipped through ports. They are equally important for intra-European trade: 37% of the intra-EU freight traffic and 385 million passengers pass by ports every year.

  3. Over 1200 commercial seaports operate along some 70.000 kilometres of the Union’s coasts. Europe is one of the densest port regions worldwide.

  4. In 2011, around 3.7 billion tonnes of cargo (more than 60 000 port calls of merchant ships) transited through European ports. Bulk traffic represented 70% of it, containers 18% and Ro-Ro traffic 7%, the rest being other general cargo.

  5. The EU port industry has a significant economic impact in terms of employment and activity in the port industry itself (direct impacts), down the supply chain (indirect impacts) and in the wider EU economy (induced impacts). There is a wide range of industrial activities – petro-chemical, steel, automotive, energy production and distribution that are located in ports. Ports are also at the heart of economic activity for wider maritime clusters, including shipyards, marine equipment, crane and terminal equipment producers, salvage companies, offshore companies, marine construction firms, dredging firms, naval bases, etc.

  6. In some cases, e.g. in the Netherlands, the full contribution of ports activities to GDP can reach 3% of total economic activity.

  7. Port activities contribute directly to employment, inward investment and GDP growth. In the 22 EU maritime states, 2,200 port operators currently employ around 110,000 port dockers. A much larger labour force serves the port industry covering maintenance and operation of maritime infrastructures, ship operations and services, land transport, logistics activities, cargo services (e.g. freight forwarding and customs broking) etc.. Ports represent 1.5 million direct jobs1. When adding indirect jobs, they represent up to 3 million jobs in the 22 maritime Member States.

  8. The costs and quality of port services are a major factor for European business. Port costs may account for a significant part of the total costs in the logistics chain. Handling cargo, port dues and port nautical services can account for between 40%-60% of the total door-to-door logistic costs for business using short sea shipping to transport goods.

  9. But Europe's ports face 3 major challenges.

  10. A 50% growth of cargo handled in EU ports is predicted by 2030. This growth is an opportunity for economic growth and more jobs: the Commission has estimated that by 2030 between 110 000 and 165 000 new jobs can be created in ports. But Europe's ports need to adapt to handle the increased traffic.

  11. The nature of the trade is changing. For example, the new generation of container ships can carry up to 18,000 containers. Placed on trucks, they would stretch in a single line from Rotterdam to Paris.

  12. There are very significant performance gaps between Europe's ports. Currently three of the best performing European ports, Antwerp, Hamburg and Rotterdam account for one fifth of all goods arriving into Europe by sea. The performance gap produces huge inefficiencies – longer routes, major traffic detours, longer sea and land trips and finally more transport emissions, more congestion to the detriment of EU citizens and the economy. If nothing is done, this simply will get worse as traffic increases.

Why 319 EU seaports?

The Commission’s has identified 319 key European seaports which are essential for the efficient functioning of the internal market and the European economy2, (see TEN-T guidelines) of these 83 are recognised as being "core network" ports3. The Commission's port review focuses on these 319 ports as a basis for a highly functioning European ports network managing 96% of goods and 93% of passengers which transit through the EU ports.

The major challenges facing our ports

High predicted growth

Even with only modest assumptions of economic growth, port cargo volumes are expected to rise by 50% by 2030 and even more for the fast growing traffic of containers.

To cope with the predicted growth, decisions have to be taken today – to have an effect in 5 to 15 years' time. First we need to get the right regulatory framework in place to attract investors and then to allow the necessary time for planning and building work to take place. Implementing major infrastructure projects typically last 15 years

If the EU fails to act today, economic growth will be threatened by congestion risk and very high external costs – in particular in ports cities and regions and their connections with their broad hinterlands.

A structural performance gap in Europe

The efficiency of ports varies greatly around Europe: not all EU ports are performing at the same level and in recent years, there has been a widening gap between ports that have adapted to new logistic and economic requirements and ports that have not followed up. Many European ports perform very well and offer high-level services. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link: if a few ports do not perform well or fall into structural decline, it affects the functioning of Europe's entire transport network and economy.

  1. The performance gaps result in traffic detours, longer sea and land trips and finally more transport emissions and more congestion to the detriment of EU citizens and the economy.

  2. It has negative impacts on business opportunities of well performing ports which cannot develop short sea shipping links (or feed traffic) towards regions with low performing ports.

  3. This gap also undermines the efforts of the EU and its Member States to develop short sea shipping as a true alternative to land transport across congested areas.

  4. Overall the performance gap undermines the efficiency and sustainability of the trans-European transport network and the competitiveness of the European economy as a whole.

The changing nature of shipping

Ports must adapt to changing needs of the industry:

  1. The size and the complexity of the fleet are increasing: ultra-large container ships appear, but also new types of Ro-Ro ferries and gas-carriers. Bigger ships require higher peak capacity when delivering more cargo or embarking a high number of passengers. For instance “Marco-Polo” owned by CMA, in operation since November 2012, has a capacity of 16,000 containers and a length of 396 m. Maersk has ordered 20 ships for 2015 with a capacity of 18,000 containers. This is the equivalent of a theoretical loaded train of 280 km (distance between Rotterdam and Dusseldorf).

  2. Deployment of bigger vessels for short sea shipping and feeder services will create new needs in terms of energy efficiency, alternative bunkering fuels and environmental performance (LNG, cold ironing4).

  3. Recent trends in logistics and distribution systems attract more value added services within a port's area (relevant to the rules for competition within a port and for charging schemes).

  4. Energy trades are changing: shift from oil and oil refined products towards gas; need for significant gasification facilities in ports; potential volumes of dry biomass and CO2 transport and storage; shore-side electricity supply.

The new proposals

We need to help ports to modernise their service provision, better connect ports, and ensure that all ports are capable of offering the best possible service. This means that those ports lagging behind need to be brought up to speed with the others. This will require a shift in mentality and learning from the good performing ports.

The Commission has estimated that this initiative can save the EU economy up to 10 billion Euros by 2030 and reduce port costs by almost 7%.

More efficient ports

The Commission is proposing new, transparent and open procedures to select the providers of port services. There will be rules to prevent possible price abuses by operators with exclusive rights. By ensuring a competitive and open environment in port services and introducing a stronger competitive pressure in those ports where this is not yet the case, operators will be pushed to provide better and more reliable services. This is also identified as one of the priorities of the Single Market Act II. The port proposal applies the freedom to provide services, with no discrimination, as a general principle and brings the port sector in line with other transport modes and the internal market functioning.

For greater customer-focus, the proposal introduces a port users' advisory committee. Details will be left to local circumstances so that local port communities can benefit from better coordination and a healthier business environment. But the port community as a whole will be more customer-oriented and will have all the tools in hand to provide better services to both the ships calling to the port and the hinterland users.

The proposal does not provide particular rules for cargo handling and passenger services, for which relevant procedures are set in a Directive on the award of concessions (see action 3). Nevertheless, providers of those services will also benefit from a more transparent business environment, with the possibility of participating actively in the better functioning of the port.

Better connections to the hinterland

To be in a position to develop and respond to change, Europe's ports must be better connected across the wider transport network.

In the new TEN-T guidelines a network of 319 ports has been identified as being essential to the functioning of the internal market and Europe's economy (83 ports in the core TEN-T network and 239 in the comprehensive network). Together these 319 TEN-T ports are crucial to further optimise European transport by means of modern logistics operations. As the modal nodes at both ends of the Motorways of the Sea, they are also essential to develop short sea shipping as an alternative to land transport in certain regions, notably in the Mediterranean. The Commission estimates that this initiative will generate an increase from 4 to 8% of short sea shipping and create a significant number of new jobs.

These TEN-T ports will generate the added value at EU level and will be complemented by local and regional ports.

Improved framework for investment

The proposal extends the freedom of ports to levy charges and reinforces the need for transparency in public funding.

The proposal will give more autonomy to port authorities, in particular regarding the setting of charges and the allocation of resources. By providing port authorities with more autonomy to set and collect the infrastructure charges themselves, they will have more options for securing good operations in a given port.

Furthermore, the proposals provide for more flexibility to take account of the environmental performance of ports. In the coming years, the environmental performance of ports will be increased by encouraging the use of clean technologies for both ships and port infrastructure. Port authorities must be equipped to address these new challenges.

Greater management autonomy of ports will be balanced by the supervision of an independent authority looking after fair competition and coordination of port developments at national and European levels.

The proposal reinforces the need for transparency in the use of public funding. This will make clear where public money is going and will help to avoid distortions of competition. The more specific transparency rules will allow closer scrutiny of certain practices which exist today. This will encourage private investors who need legal certainty and long-term stability. In times where public resources have become increasingly scarce, additional private investments need to be secured.

Social dialogue: ensuring good working conditions

Without a properly trained workforce and skilled people, ports cannot function. The Commission has estimated that the expected increase in port activity can create approximately 70 000 direct new jobs5 by 2030. Modern port services and a stable environment must also involve modern organisation of work and social provisions.

Starting this June, the Commission will create a Social Dialogue Committee for Ports to allow employees and employers to discuss and agree on work-related issues. The Commission will provide a technical and administrative support to the work of this Committee and will evaluate progress in 2016.

The Committee will start its work focusing on the issues of health, safety, training and education. The agreements reached will later be turned into legislation.

The action plan proposed by the Commission

The new legislative proposal on ports is part of a broader action plan proposed by the Commission. After a long consultation process, the Commission has come up to an initiative which consists of a legislative proposal with focused measures to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council and eight additional actions that the Commission should undertake in the coming years to address the major challenges facing our ports today:

Action 1

Use the future corridor structures of the new guidelines for the development of the TEN-T network to identify priority investments under the "Connecting Europe Facility" to connect ports to rail, inland waterways and roads and to encourage ports to provide information on traffic flows which allow a better organisation of intermodal logistics.

Action 2

Strengthen the alignment of transport projects funded under the Structural and Cohesion Funds with the TEN-T, giving priority to projects on port access and hinterland connections. The same investment consistency effort will be made with other sources of EU funding, such as loans available through the EIB and other EU lending facilities.

Action 3

Check the correct application of the future Directive on concession and public contracts in the port sector. For contracts not covered by these Directives, check that the principles of equal treatment and transparency of the Treaty as interpreted by the Court are applied correctly in the port sector.

Action 4

Support administrative simplification in ports, turning into practical effect the efforts undertaken with the initiatives on:

  1. - "Blue Belt" which simplify customs procedures in ports;

  2. - Harmonised and coherent implementation of “national single windows”;

  3. - "e-maritime" (use of electronic information for the reduction of administrative burden and doing business); and

  4. - “e-Freight” initiative which aims to facilitate the exchange of information along multimodal logistics chains and which will contribute to improve port efficiency as ports are important multimodal platforms.

Action 5

Clarify the application of the EU state aid rules in the port sector: the Commission is currently engaged in the modernisation of its state aid rules for all economic sectors. The Commission will clarify the notion of aid by the end of 2013 as regards the financing of infrastructures, in particular in view of the evolving case law of the Court of Justice.

Action 6

Adaptation to change to be discussed as appropriate with the social partners in the framework of the European Social Dialogue: the EU social partners have already agreed rules of procedures and an open joint work programme and expect the Committee to be formally established on 19 June 2013. The Commission will provide a support to the work of this Committee and will evaluate progress in 2016.

Action 7

Promote innovation, monitor performance and examine and discuss human resource needs, including health and safety, training and qualification challenges in EU ports: under the 7th RTD framework programme for transport, the Commission will launch before the end of 2013 two-EU wide projects examining those questions.

Action 8

Support a more consistent application of environmentally differentiated port infrastructure charges: the Commission will propose principles for environmental charging and promote the exchange of good practices by 2015.

More information


List of 319 key EU ports by country


Europe's top 20 cargo ports, by number of tonnes handled (2011). See also graphic below.

Top 20 EU Cargo Ports

Tonnes handled, in million tonnes (2011)

















Le Havre


















Milford Haven
























Tees & Hartlepool


Graphic: Europe's top 20 cargo ports and other main cargo ports - number of tonnes handled (2011)

Source: Eurostat

3 :

The TEN-T network consists of two layers: 1) the comprehensive network will ensure full coverage of the EU and accessibility of all regions, to be completed by 2030, and 2) the core network that will feed into the comprehensive network and will prioritize the most important nodes of the TEN-T, and is to be completed by 2050. Detailed TEN-T port selection criteria can be found in the TEN-T proposal (COM (2011) 650 final/2). The final number of TEN-T ports will depend on the final outcome of the on-going ordinary legislative procedure.

4 :

Cold ironing or shore side electricity supply: where vessels connect to share for energy supply instead of having to use their on board generators.

5 :

The figure is higher when considering indirect and induced jobs.

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