French MEP: Shipping is transport for the future

A ship landing in the port of Calais, a candidate for Juncker plan funding. [Charlie Dave/Flickr]

Europe is a global leader in maritime transport, a sector which emits 15 times less CO2 than road haulage. Yet, the European Union has so far failed to develop so-called “motorways of the sea”, Dominique Riquet told EURACTIV France

French MEP Dominique Riquet (UDI) has been the vice-president of the European Parliament Committee on Transport and Tourism since 2012.

Is maritime transport a priority for the European Union?

Europe owns 41% of the world’s sea transport capacity, the largest fleet in the world.

Maritime transport both within the EU and internationally is a priority for the European Union, which is supporting the industry by developing regulation and infrastructure.

This is an essential part of our economy. It is worth €100 billion and employs 180,000 people. But above all it is a vitally important mode of transport, carrying around 40% of the goods traded within the EU. This is of no small significance, as road transport, the leading sector, accounts for around 45-50% of goods.

With a much smaller carbon footprint than road transport, shipping should be pushed as a mode of transport for the future.

What leverage can the European Union apply to promote the development of short distance sea transport?

Action needs to be taken on several fronts. Port infrastructure, and the connections between ports and other transport networks (river, rail and road), has to be improved, with projects like the Marco Polo programme. It is also important to develop training in the maritime transport industry and reinforce safety standards across the EU.

The Marco Polo programme was launched in 2003 to promote the diversification of freight transport away from the roads. But it was widely criticised, particularly by the Court of Auditors of the European Union…

The Marco Polo programme was not a success. One of the reasons for its failure was that it did not offer shipping companies enough support. If you want to develop “motorways of the sea,” of course you have to support port infrastructure, but you also need a fleet of ships that are suitable for these new routes!

The EU is establishing a new financing tool for large infrastructure projects. Could the maritime sector benefit from this?

Yes, absolutely. Several port projects may receive Juncker plan funding. Port infrastructure is very costly, but the return on investments is often deemed too low by private investors.

The European Interconnection Mechanism (EIM) can also co-finance these sea highway projects for up to 20% of their total cost. One example is the extension of the Port of Calais, which could benefit from public subsidies from the EIM and the Juncker plan.

Sea transport is often portrayed as one of the cleanest modes of transport. What kinds of measures are taken within the European Union to maintain environmental standards?

Marine freight transport emits between 15 and 18 times less CO2 than road transport. The comparison with rail transport is more difficult, because the sector’s emissions depend principally on how the electricity that powers the trains is generated. The figure would vary considerably depending on whether the power came from renewable sources or coal, for example.

Europe’s commercial fleet also has to bring itself up to standard regarding the Sulphur Directive, which entered into force on 1 January 2015. This is a very important environmental measure, but it is also very difficult to implement, as companies have to choose between making expensive modifications to their ships and investing in more expensive fuel. 

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