“Port Utopia” or PORTOPIA?

“Port Utopia” or PORTOPIA?


In 2010, during the EU co-founded PPRISM project, the members of the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) tested the difficulties in selecting and defining port performance indicators. These difficulties did represent a challenge, but the European port sector, through ESPO, has been able to succeed, and the PPRISM project led to the annual publication of the European Port Sector Performance Dashboard. One of the main factors for the success of the project was the choice to present the results in aggregated form, representing the European port sector as a whole, and showing general tendencies.

The PORTOPIA project, which has been ongoing since September 2013, has even more ambitious objectives; to support the European port industry with meaningful performance data to increase individual port and port transport system performance, to support policy formulation and monitor policy implementation.

These objectives basically set up the ultimate goal for the European port sector: to provide a proper and clear picture of itself for the decision making process. This is a challenge, and will not be an easy task. The most challenging issue is to achieve a well-accepted set of indicators by all the involved stakeholders. The result will be a compromise between theory, reality and feasibility. At the same time, it will ensure the correct representation of the full set of activities and functions of the entire European port sector.

In this sense, port governance models and port functions play a fundamental role. Both aspects are the results of different traditions as well as geographical and economic environment where ports operate. As the ESPO Fact Finding Report on EU ports governance 2010 stated:  “there is no doubt that governance factors determine to a large extent the performance of the port authority itself… two formal factors consist of the legal and statutory framework on the one hand and the financial capability on the other.”

The legal and statutory framework, and financial capability, also have their consequences on data availability. A port is not a single entity but a complex of subjects and activities. EU port authorities, or port managing bodies, do not have the same statutory objectives and may not have access to micro-data on those aspects that are not under their legal responsibility. In some cases, other public entities or organisations, even private, are responsible for data collection and/or processing, thus considering such figures “of their exclusive competence”.  In other situations, specific data might be considered “sensitive” from a commercial point of view, and therefore could lead, if known, to a competitive advantage.

Another issue to be approached is linked to data homogeneity. Efforts have been made to have comparable and meaningful data, and should continue in order to find common definitions, standards and methodologies of analysis for each selected indicator. As regards port traffic figures, ESPO has been proactively involved since its foundation. The Rapid Exchange System is a successful example of the results achieved by ESPO and its members. Indeed, it gives quite a precise picture of the European port traffic, as confirmed by informal analysis made by Eurostat.

To conclude, the European port sector committed itself to make PORTOPIA a successful experience. The project is like a window to the future, as it gives a real opportunity to establish a common European approach on this issue. At the same time it is clear that efforts should be made by all stakeholders to strengthen the common elements while minimising concerns.  These efforts should also be pursued by public institutions both at European and member state level.


Oliviero Giannotti


Economic Analysis and Statistics Committee

European Sea Ports Organisation



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