MEPs back cheaper services in EU ports

roterdamMEPs on Tuesday (8 March) backed a proposal to increase efficiency and lower the cost of services provided in European Union ports.

The amended proposal’s introduction of more transparency into the setting of tariffs for services, such as mooring and refuelling, and the use of harbour infrastructure, is intended to help prevent price hikes and market distortion.

Current management models would only be allowed to keep functioning if they respect minimum standards.

The initial proposal by the European Commission raised free market access as the general principle in providing port services, but the Parliament insisted that “the single model is not appropriate, given the diversity of organisation systems in the EU”.

The European Parliament introduced an amendment to the legislation in order to guarantee that management systems that have already been established at a national level can continue to operate in the future.

“We have removed the obligation to give free market access to port services. Especially in regard to safety, ports must be able to decide how they organise their services models,” said the text’s German rapporteur, S&D MEP Knut Fleckenstein (Social Democrats).

“For the first time during the course of a long discussion on the ports package, we can count on the support of ports, terminal operators and the unions,” he added.

MEPs backed EU-wide rules for port operators that would limit the number of service providers, enabling them to set minimum requirements or establish themselves as “internal operators”.

Service-provider minimum standards would include demonstrating professional qualifications, but operators would also have to comply with environment and safety laws and respect national social standards.

The list of “justified cases” where the freedom to provide port services could be limited includes “riverside areas”, port traffic characteristics and “the need to ensure the provision of safe, secure or environmentally sustainable port operations”, according to the text adopted by the plenary.

Public funding can be included on port operators’ books, but activity or investment of this nature must be kept separate from the accounts of its other activities and transparency is a must, warned lawmakers.

To prevent price abuses in the absence of market mechanisms, provisions will have to be put in place that guarantee tariffs are “not disproportionate” in regard to the actual value of the services.

Port authorities will be expected to set those prices themselves, in line with their own business plans and investments.

An amendment made by the Parliament means that member states will have to establish one or more independent bodies that will manage complaints or disputes.

The legislation will not affect the implementation of national social and labour laws.

Working conditions will still have to respect national, regional and local standards and MEPs added that national authorities will have to provide training that ensures port workers are adequately trained.

As well as amending the Commission’s proposal, the Parliament tasked its negotiators with approaching the European Council for final approval.

Spanish MEPs from the People’s Party voted against the bill, as they believed it to be detrimental to Spain’s interests in the maritime sector.

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