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European Commission

Siim Kallas

Vice-President of the European Commission

Europe's ports: a vital gateway to the rest of the world


23 May 2013

Good afternoon,

Today I want to talk to you about seaports.

3.7 billion tonnes of cargo pass through Europe's ports each year. They are a vital gateway to the rest of the world. But port operations are complex – goods have to be loaded and unloaded, a pilot has to guide the ship into and out of the port. A mooring has to be found. And customs formalities have to be observed. And after all that, goods need to make their onward journey by rail or road or inland waterway.

A small number of our ports are very good at this. In fact the top 3 of them – Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg – handle 20% of all goods.

However, this presents transport operators with major challenges.

  1. More and more ships go to the best performing ports. Congestion builds up on the surrounding roads. And other ports are underutilised.

  2. Ocean-going vessels make longer and more inefficient journeys to find the better services.

  3. Shipping companies within Europe cannot develop new short sea links where a fast turnaround at both ends is so important.

On top of all this, seaborne trade is growing very fast – a 50% growth is predicted by 2030.

And the nature of the trade is changing. 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!

Europe's ports have to adapt.

Faced with these challenges they need to:

  1. become more efficient; and

  2. attract new investment.

    The growth of traffic could create more than 70.000 direct additional jobs in ports by 2030.

    But doing nothing would put at risk these jobs. It would be a lost opportunity to develop new sea links. It would create additional congestion on roads and would cost more than 10 billion Euros for our transport industry by then.

That's why we are making new proposals today.

We are targeting just over 300 key European seaports. Between them they account for 96% of all international and intra-EU freight.

We are proposing:

  • more customer focus – with a new users' advisory committee;

  • more freedom for ports to set charges, combined with a greater obligation for transparency where public money is involved;

  • new transparent and open procedures to select the providers of port services;

  • financial support from the 'Connecting Europe Facility' for port projects which improve onwards connections with rail, inland waterways and road;

  • and improved dialogue with the social partners – though a new committee structure.

We want to help our ports to move into the 21st century. That way they can deliver a better service to European industry and Europe's economy.

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