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Ministers Want to Raise Profile of Waterborne Transport

Date: 13/01/2011

Role and Efficiency of Ports Must be Reinforced

During the first week of December, European Transport Ministers gathered in Brussels for the last Transport Council under the Belgian Presidency. As a follow-up to the informal Transport Council held in Antwerp in September, Ministers adopted conclusions calling for full integration of waterborne transport into the EU transport and logistics chains. Special emphasis was made on short sea shipping and inland waterway transport. To encourage waterborne transport, the Council now formally endorsed the ‘Blue Belt’ concept which aims to create a European maritime transport space without barriers. Here, ships will be able to operate freely with a minimum of administrative formalities, irrespective of their flag. The combination of technology, maritime transport monitoring capacities and best practices will allow the establishment of such an area. The concept also foresees in the development of ‘Blue Lanes’ in ports. These would involve ports and customs authorities granting administrative, technological or physical facilitations to ensure swift port transit of goods originating from the EU. Furthermore, the Council supported the Commission's plan to launch a pilot project, in cooperation with the member states' authorities and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), to develop the ‘Blue Belt’ concept further. At the same time Transport Ministers expressed the wish to better align the ‘Motorways of the Sea’ concept with the emerging European multi-modal transport system so as to fully exploit the potential for synergies. This requires the strengthening of links with rail and inland waterways and the further development of ports as key modal interfaces. The Council invited the Commission to reinforce the role of ports through the TEN-T review. Ministers also asked the Commission to present guidelines on the application of EU environmental legislation and on State aid and underlined the need to increase port efficiency. The Council further supported the Commission’s multi-dimensional action approach including elements such as alternative fuels, green technology, adequate infrastructure, funding instruments and research and innovation. These could help improve the waterborne sector's environmental performance while maintaining its competitiveness. As regards emissions from international shipping, Ministers stressed the need for global IMO rules to avoid competitive distortions and carbon leakage. In addition, the Commission should look at ways to avoid weakening the competitive position of short sea shipping as a result of the recently agreed use of the more expensive low-sulphur bunker fuel.

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