Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



Miss McIntosh

  20. I gather that part of the reason for the Directive is to integrate ports into the trans-European transport network. Why have smaller ports been specifically excluded from the remit of the Directive?
  (Mr Elsner) Our proposal was to exclude smaller ports. As things stand at the moment in the discussions it looks very much as though the ports which are covered in the trans-European network, Group A, that is the bigger size group of ports, will be the threshold for this ports Directive. There seems to be widespread agreement that one should lower the threshold in this Directive and bring it onto the same level as the ports included in the trans-European networks. That is not an answer. You asked why we had a different threshold. Essentially it was because we believe that we would be open to the usual accusation of creating additional bureaucracy for small ports and that is why we had a higher threshold.

  Chairman: You do not want people saying that.

Miss McIntosh

  21. Your unit is also responsible for short-sea shipping.
  (Mr Elsner) Yes; correct.

  22. My understanding is that most Member States want to encourage short-sea shipping. Presumably one of the ways of encouraging it is by improving access through the trans-European network to the smaller ports. That is why I am surprised that it is not included in the Directive.
  (Mr Elsner) Correct. We believe that short-sea shipping is an absolute must for the years to come because you know as well as I know that transport policies in Member States simply will not be able to cope with transport growth so you have to rely upon other modes of transport which are readily available and short-sea shipping is one. This means that short-sea shipping has to have a better image, that the shipping companies offering short-sea shipping services have to offer good services. Services are improving, ports have to be competitive and working well and within the ports the operators have to have a choice between different service providers and not have to rely on a monopoly or duopoly or other restricted number of service providers. Short-sea shipping is the only mode, apart from road transport, which has been a success story in the 1990s when it comes to growth rates.

  23. I hate to put words in the Chairman's mouth, but what the Committee is trying to say is that it is perhaps unwise to have a one-size-fits-all Directive when clearly the state of the industry is so very different. For example, many of the port charges are raised and paid through general taxation, whereas in this country navigational aids are provided by light dues. Have you given some thought to those differences and how the Directive might embrace them?
  (Mr Elsner) Yes. I would disagree that this is a one-size-fits-all Directive because if you read the text you will realise that it has very many clauses which allow Member States to apply the text to the specificities of the countries concerned—we call it subsidiarity. So there is a very large area where the rules can be applied within a given framework to the specificities of the country. I should add one thing which is maybe not as clear in the text as it should be, that the bulk of this Directive only applies to those ports where there are restrictions on the market. If a port is an open port, that is it allows operators to offer their services in the port, provided of course that they are qualified, then virtually all of these clauses in the Directive simply would not apply in any case. It is a restricted Directive which sets out rules of procedure and rules of substance but above all to those ports, and virtually exclusively to those ports, where a potential service provider which is competent is not allowed, for whatever reason, to operate because the number of service providers is restricted.

  24. You are not going to get a level playing field if navigational aids are being paid for differently. How is the Commission going to resolve that?
  (Mr Elsner) This is an issue which is dealt with quite differently in a number of member countries. In some countries navigational aids are included in port dues, in other countries they are not. It is very much a mixed bag in Member States and we are in a situation where if we think that one has to harmonise it then we shall be accused of harmonising too much. We believe if there were to be a satisfactory system of charging that this would help a long way towards a situation where all situations can be addressed, no matter whether the financing is public or private, no matter whether navigational aids are financed through the public purse or whether they are even put in place by private operators and immediately and directly charged to the users.


  25. How can you do those calculations if you yourself say that most of the finances are not transparent? I am fascinated. Are you telling me that Barcelona is part of a system which is totally competitive?
  (Mr Elsner) I agree; I agree that there must be absolute transparency. That is why my Commissioner has recently made the commitment in the European Parliament that the so-called transparency Directive, which exists already and which is limited to enterprises of an annual turnover of at least 40 million, will be changed—

  26. What is that in pounds? Guess? I am afraid I only think in pounds.
  (Mr Elsner) 25 million. This Directive will be modified so as to cover all the ports to which this directive applies.

  27. But that has not happened and that is not in place and it is not linked to this one.
  (Mr Elsner) It is linked to this one, not legally speaking linked because it is a different piece of legislation, but it is linked to it; it has been politically linked to it by the European Parliament, by my Commissioner. The preparatory work is in hand to do this.

Mr O'Brien

  28. Listening to your response to members of the Committee on this question of European ports, one can only describe it as a malaise. What is the Commissioner's view on the level of port capacity in the EU and the need for expansion?
  (Mr Elsner) The port capacity is an issue which very much divides people. We believe that there is certainly no over-capacity. The capacity is relatively easily—relatively—changed so as to comply with demand. We know that capacity is being increased in most European countries at the moment. Many ports are expanding considerably and they do this because the container trade in particular is expanding very fast.

  29. You accept that there is a need for expansion.
  (Mr Elsner) There is a need, for the simple reason that experience shows that when expansion operations took place in recent years and warning voices said that this was unnecessary, the facts have shown that the infrastructure was necessary.

  30. In the annex to your document you talk about technical and nautical services and you refer to pilots, towing, mooring, cargo handling, but there is no reference to training or to skills application to ensure that those services can be applied. Why is that?
  (Mr Elsner) That is because we believe that the European Union should not get involved in fixing common rules for training.

  31. That is part of the business. You cannot run ports without skilled labour and trained labour.
  (Mr Elsner) Yes, you can argue both ways, can you not?

  32. Tell me how you can argue against wanting skilled labour?
  (Mr Elsner) No, we do not argue against that. What I did say was that we do not believe that at the moment it would be of added value if we proposed common rules on training.

  33. Are you saying then that different ports should be able to apply different skills? Is this equitable? Is this fair?
  (Mr Elsner) This is the case today.

  34. It is the case today.
  (Mr Elsner) You need different skills for different operations taking place in ports and ports are quite different everywhere in Europe; a cargo handler in a tidal port has to have different skills from a cargo handler in a Mediterranean port where the overall conditions are less demanding.

  35. There is no reference, no range for those skills.
  (Mr Elsner) There is no reference.

  36. You are saying you do not want to dictate.
  (Mr Elsner) That is right.

  37. But you are doing it in other ways. You have just explained that the question of financing, the question of loans, the question of operations are things the Commission are looking at. Why are you not looking at the provision of skills and the training?
  (Mr Elsner) We do look at training for seafarers, which is a related area but not the same.


  38. This is about ports.
  (Mr Elsner) This is about ports; I admit that it is a different area. We believe that when it comes to seafarers there is a big need because we believe we risk losing our maritime know-how in Europe and therefore we believe that we should jointly try to ensure that the skill factor is addressed in an adequate way.

Mr O'Brien

  39. What about passenger services?
  (Mr Elsner) We do not think there is a need at the moment to propose—we cannot fix it anyway—common rules on that.


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