European Court of Auditors: funding ineffective and unsustainable

According to the European Court of Auditors, a third of EU spending on the renovation of EU seaports between 2000 and 2013 was ineffective and unsustainable. About €194 million went on projects which duplicated existing facilities, whereas €97 million were invested in infrastructures not used or underused for more than three years.

The strategies adopted, according to the Auditors assessment, did not provide a solid base for port-capacity planning. Moreover, neither the European Union nor the Member States had a strategic overview of which ports needed funding.

What is more, resources were not used in the best possible way. In four ports, in fact, relevant areas were either still empty or nearly so, while another port showed no activities at all.

Mr Oskar Herics, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report, observed that “… Needs assessments are weak and there is a high risk of the money invested being wasted. Overall, this relates to almost 400 million euros of investment examined …”.

The coordination between the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) on the funding of port infrastructures did not work properly. Indeed, granting of loans by the EIB to neighboring ports outside the Union had hampered the effectiveness of EU funding invested in EU ports.

In addition, it was found that, often, the ports concerned were not adequately linked to the hinterland and this would require further public investments to make the initial one work properly.

Furthermore, State aid checks should have been made more effective, maybe establishing guidelines on which user-specific superstructure could receive funding. The Court made several recommendations, mostly to the Commission:

  • Revise the current number of 104 core ports and set out an EU-wide port development plan;
  • Consider the exclusion of EU funding for port infrastructure for container trans-shipment and storage as well as for superstructure which is not within the public remit;
  • Ensure that all essential loan information on proposed EIB loans is shared between the EIB and the Commission;
  • Prioritize core ports and key waterways with EU support for investment only where EU added value is clear and there is sufficient private investment;
  • Issue port-specific state aid guidelines and monitor and follow up earlier state aid decisions;
  • Reduce administrative burden and delays by promoting national “one stop-shops” for issuing permits and authorizations;
  • Improve the competitive position of maritime transport compared to other transport modes by further simplifying maritime transport and custom formalities…”

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Pietro Michea