Konstantinos Rigas on port regulations and environmental charging
Continuing our series of interviews leading up to the Baltic Ports Conference 2017, we asked Konstantinos Rigas, Unit "Ports & Inland navigation", European Commission, about port regulations’ impact on the competitiveness of EU ports and environmental charging.
BPO: Where do we currently stand in terms of implementation of port regulations? How successful are these regulations in their contribution to overall competitiveness of EU ports?
Konstantinos Rigas: The Commission has a clearly defined ports policy since 2013 . One of its main elements is to reduce legal uncertainties on the access to the market of port services and introduce transparency in public funding. Regulation 2017/352 , the so called "Port Services Regulation", which entered into force on 24 March 2017, does exactly that. Rules on transparency of public funding and port charges are introduced to level the playing field between ports, help attract private investments and stimulate more efficient public investments. Open and transparent access to certain port services is ensured and terms under which any limitations may apply are clearly spelled out. The provisions on minimum requirements contribute to higher quality of services. The governance of ports is enhanced by strengthening the capacity of ports to define infrastructure charges according to their own commercial and investment strategies. Consultation of port users and stakeholders is now prominent, and a mechanism for handling complains and settling disputes will be introduced in each Member State in order to avoid lengthy and costly litigation procedures.
With the above measures, the Regulation ensures a level playing field among EU ports while at the same time fully respecting and taking into account the individual nature of each port. In essence, the Regulation provides the necessary clarity to the sector and its stakeholders and a set of tools that can help the ports improve their competitiveness. It is now up to the ports themselves to make the best use of them.
BPO: A recent report on differentiated port infrastructure charges, published by the European Commission, states that a more consistent approach to “environmental charging” would greatly benefit the process of implementation. Could such an approach threaten the currently voluntary nature of these incentives?
KR: Raising the environmental profile of ports and the maritime sector, in particular by looking into environmental differentiated infrastructure charges, is also part of the 2013 Ports Policy. The recently published study aimed to examine the existing situation and provide guidance on voluntary applications of such schemes, as part of the Commission's broader policy to support the uptake of alternative fuels for waterborne transport and a market based measure for reducing emissions from shipping. The study identified that some 30 EU Ports do apply some form of differentiated charging schemes already through spontaneous bottom up approaches. Through its economic and environmental assessment, the study suggests that improved coordination in the application of these schemes by the ports can help the efficiency of the schemes where currently applied and help their uptake by more ports.
A clear distinction needs to be made: a coordinated approach is not the same as an obligation to apply a scheme. Nor does a more coordinated approach mean that no room can be left to account for the individual nature of ports. Ports have developed and apply such schemes already – this is a reality. The question therefore is how the sector and all the interested stakeholders can work together in developing solutions that will increase the voluntary uptake of such schemes by ports, and their use by the shipping sector. We must not forget that the end result is to improve the benefits the EU citizens are finally getting from the implementation of such schemes. And here the study has succeeded in starting a dialogue.
BPO: What can the European Commission do to help involve all parties relevant to the decision-making process linked to the implementation of “environmental charging” and better coordinate the dialogue between them?
KR: The Commission recently set up an expert group – the European Ports Forum – which is a platform to discuss port related issues stemming from the 2013 Ports Policy with the Member States and port stakeholders. Environmental port charging along with other measures to reduce environmental impacts in and around the ports are among the areas that the group may cover. This expert group thus provides an excellent opportunity to bring together all interested parties and establish a concrete and continuous dialogue on these issues. It is also in line with one of the recommendations of the study to establish a forum to collect and exchange learning insights and be a platform for discussion among the different stakeholders.
Following a call for applications, the Baltic Ports Organisation has been selected as one of the members of the expert group. We look forward to benefiting from the BPO's experience and positive contribution to the discussions to come. The first meeting of the European Ports Forum is scheduled towards the end of the year.