EU stresses trans-europe networks must not distort competition

April, 19 2004

EUROPE'S "motorways of the sea" should not distort for existing private sector lines, institutions in Brussels have decided. Public funding for shipping lines under the EU's trans-European networks programme must not interfere with established routes, according to an agreement between the EU council of ministers and the parliament. Private sector companies expressed concern about the potential distorting effects of a large cash injection from the state sector. Politicians have decided to attempt to move freight from the roads onto ships by creating a network of "sea motorways", which will be supported from state coffers. The programme, which has been under study for two years without yet producing any concrete results, is a response to chronic road congestion, particularly in the Mediterranean. Increasing congestion is predicted to load to gridlock in certain regions within the next eight years. Subsidising short sea shipping network is a controversial idea and has been opposed by a number of EU member states. France is understood to have been the principal driving force behind the concept until now. Those opposed claim the idea is "doomed to failure" because the sea motorways will collapse as soon as start-up aid is phased out. The EU already allows for state aid to net maritime services under the Marco Polo programme, though funding is limited. But the multi-annual trans-European transport networks programme has been allocated a budget in excess of € 650 m.

Lloyd's List