EC plans to reroute Ireland’s freight includes ports in Belgium and the Netherlands.
We reported last month’s call from the EU to intensify preparations for Brexit. They are concerned both about their 'red lines' – including borderless trade between Northern and Southern Ireland; and the increasing risk of a no deal Brexit and a “cliff edge” separation on 30 March 2019.
Presently, with free movement of goods across the EU, much of freight bound for Ireland passes through the UK. The European Commission is considering future trade and proposes a realignment of the EU’s North Sea corridor. This is at the same time symbolic and practical.
It is considered impractical for the UK to be part of EU routes when it leaves the bloc. The risks of Irish trade with the Continent getting snarled up in British customs at every level – physical, documentary, tariff and regulatory.
The Commission on Wednesday (1 August 2018) adopted a proposal to revise the routing of one of its strategic transport corridors to connect Dublin and Cork with the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp and the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. This will channel trade directly from Ireland to mainland Europe after Brexit.
Between 2021 and 2027, a proposed €30.6 billion could be available from the EU’s major infrastructure fund — the Connecting Europe Facility — for such upgrades across the EU.
Commission spokesperson Enrico Brivio commented that: “This is to guarantee the connectivity of Ireland with mainland Europe, in particular by ensuring clarity and continuity as regards future priorities for infrastructure development and investments.”
Surprisingly, French ports were largely excluded from European Commission plans – which are to be facilitated with billions of euros in EU grants to participating ports.
The Commission received multiple requests from French ports and regional business groups to be included in the proposal. Public consultation on the planned route closed on 12 July – with six of the seven responses said the corridor should run through France.
But the plan, part of a series of EU measures to mitigate the effect of the U.K.’s departure which Brussels calls 'Brexit preparedness', ignores major sites in France that are geographically closer to Ireland, including Roscoff and Cherbourg. That means those ports and the transport infrastructure serving them would not be eligible for extra funds from Brussels to upgrade their facilities.
The Commission has not laid out the reasoning behind its decision to exclude French ports, but the routing follows concerns about serious congestion in Northern France if customs checks are introduced to cross the English Channel and congestion caused by industrial action by French port workers.
The corridor at present goes from Edinburgh through Ireland, taking in the British ports of Liverpool, Southampton, Felixstowe and Dover, before crossing to Calais and Dunkerque and later taking in Zeebrugge, Antwerp and Rotterdam.
Much of Ireland’s fresh food and agricultural produce travels via truck across the U.K. and then makes the short hop over the English Channel between Dover and Calais.
The Union des Ports de France backed the “corridor’s alignment to French ports located in the Channel-North Sea,” arguing that the route should “reflect the geography and the current flows” of traffic.
The Commission published a handwritten diagram (dated 11 July 2018) suggesting that seven French seaports were originally considered - only for them to be later excluded.
The proposal has yet to be adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council - and is dependent on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, since it would only take effect once the UK is excluded from EU regulations covering funding for transport projects.
That would be either January 2021 - after the proposed 21-month transition period – or 30 March 2019 if the Brexit talks end in a 'no-deal'.
France's national state-owned railway company (SNCF), with a vested interest in protecting its investment in rail infrastructure, stated that the UK should be kept within the EU’s North Sea-Mediterranean corridor even after Brexit: “SNCF invites the involved parties to avoid hurdles to investments enhancing the existing rail infrastructure connecting the EU and the UK and to consider keeping the Paris-Lille-London/Brussels high speed rail network included in the NSM corridor after Brexit.”
Ireland’s main shipping routes run between Cherbourg in France and Santander in Spain. Capacity has already increased in anticipation of disruption on the land route.
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