Danube port legislation: building a bridge across various jurisdictions

The Danube is the longest river in Central Europe, and thus has significant economic potential. However, the full potential of the Danube as a major transport route has not yet been exploited. A reason for this is the fact that the Danube crosses ten countries, and there are, as a result, ten different applicable port legislations in the Danube region. Therefore, in order to create a more efficient and comprehensive transport network, the port legislation of all Danube riparian countries needs to be analysed. In this respect the necessity for a more harmonised approach to the Danube port legislation also needs to be examined. For this purpose, the DAPhNE project was established.

What is DAPhNE?

The abbreviation DAPhNE stands for Danube Ports Network, a project funded in the framework of the European Union Danube Transnational Programme. The overall aim of DaPhNE is to facilitate Danube ports to become key-elements of a more efficient and sustainable transport network. The activities of the DAPhNE project are linked to the regulatory framework of Danube ports. An improved regulatory framework would help to eliminate the quality gaps in terms of infra- and superstructure which exist between Upper and Middle & Lower Danube sections. Six DAPhNE consortium members have developed national reports covering the port legal aspects applicable in Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania. These reports allow a comparison between the Danube riparian countries, and were the basis for the development of a set of recommendations on port legislation. The suggested recommendations should provide a guidance document by which the national legislation can be reviewed and where appropriate adapted. They can further be used as guidance for port operation in practice.

What are the main differences between the jurisdictions?

As long as the Danube is, as many differences have been identified in the national legislations. A review of the national reports has shown that most differences exist in the permitting procedures. The review of the national provisions has led to the conclusion that an effective permitting procedure should include all general necessary permits, but not overregulate the port construction and operation. An overregulation (e.g. too many permission steps; too complex application requirements; permission requirements not relevant for port operation; too many involved authorities; too long permission waiting periods) may cause an economic stagnation of port development and counteract the target of a unified economic Danube region.

Which main recommendations have been developed?

Among the harmonisation of port fees, port bylaws and safety measures, a particularly important topic was the reduction of the port eco-footprint. Clear rules on the transport, the operation and storage of dangerous goods, the modernisation of the fleets, and the use of new technologies to make vessels more environmentally friendly (e.g. LNG powered vessels), environmentally friendly disposal of sewage water and waste, or the use of renewable energies in the port have been considered as possibilities for environmental protection. Environmental protection should further be a general principle ranging through the whole water and port legislation.

Which harmonisation measures are particularly necessary to create a comprehensive economic area?

From the point of view that Danube ports should not only serve as cargo handling facilities, but also represent an important trade and logistics hub, the uniform development of the port and the whole port onshore area is an important aim for all Danube sections. A port should represent an area where companies can establish a comprehensive economic location. To give companies an incentive to settle in the port area and see this settlement as a benefit, not only a well-developed port infrastructure and superstructure must be available, but also a low-impact settlement option.

Infrastructure and superstructure development in this respect should not depend on the type of ownership. The development of public ports should be carried out due to specific development programmes, which ensure a high level of the technical standards of the port. Accompanied by infrastructure investments the authorities should establish sustainable measures to ensure and enhance the maintenance of waterways for commercial use.

Furthermore, a coordinated transport policy and national transport connections (road, rail and water) should be present to improve the integration of cargo handling into the overall commodity trade.

Moreover, for the purpose of strategic resource planning regarding the capacity of Danube ports, the Danube countries should consider implementing administrative and operational centers for the monitoring of ship traffic.