European ports organisation (Espo) believes that in the absence of any insight on the duration and impact of the current Covid – 19 crisis, it is, at this moment, impossible to set the ground for a long-term EU transport strategy, but it has come with a two-step approach.

While ports are ready to embrace and adapt to a changed reality, it is at this moment still unclear how long the current major disruption of Europe’s economy and society will last, how severe the impacts will be, or what efforts will be needed to come to a “new normal” scenario.

Although many ports are already feeling the impact of the slowdown of the global economy, the real, tangible impact for the entire port sector will only become clear as from the second quarter of this year.

European ports believe Europe’s first priority must now be to develop a restart and recovery plan which helps to overcome this crisis. It should develop the measures and instruments for Europe’s recovery to put the European economy and society back on track as soon as possible, while guaranteeing this happens in a safe way. Espo says that in the absence of a vaccine or treatment, an essential part of the short-term recovery measures has to be focused on re-starting economic activities, including transport, and societal behaviour, based on co-existence with the Covid-19 virus. “Measures will be necessary to limit the risks of spreading the virus, among others by developing the necessary plans for enabling a 1.5mtr economy and society,” says Espo. 

“Moreover it will be important existing policies and financial instruments for infrastructure projects in ports, in particular CEF [Connecting Europe Facility], can be further strengthened to ensure resilient sectors such as the port sector can rebound quickly after the crisis and pursue already planned investments.

“Advancing planned CEF calls could in that sense be a way of boosting investments in ports and allowing ports to further play their role as engines of growth.”

Espo stresses that during this first phase, the impact of the crisis and the recovery measures on both the European and national budgets must be evaluated in order to have a realistic picture of the available budget for implementing new ambitions and strategies.

In a second phase, as soon as the crisis situation stabilises, and the “new normal” sets in, the discussion should start on a new Transport Strategy, which will set the long-term goals, ambitions and initiatives for the European transport sector. The Strategy should integrate the consequences of and lessons learned from this crisis and should build on the new post-crisis reality.

While successful and proven policies, such as Europe’s Transport Infrastructure policy, should not be radically put into question, it is clear the current crisis will require answers to new challenges and questions like is the critical role of transport, ports and strategic supply chains sufficiently ensured in Europe’s transport policy and will social distancing in transport be a short-term measure or part of the “new normal”.

Also there is the issues of which of the current urgency measures enabling contactless transport and using digital solutions should be further developed and become part of a long-term transport strategy and is the security of digitalisation processes sufficiently ensured if home and smart working is further developed. Are new supply chain patterns emerging, are reshoring and diversification of suppliers part of the “new normal” and will health checks and border controls be part of the long-term transport strategy or remain just a crisis response measure.

Filed: 2020-05-07