Twenty-one national ShortSea Promotion Centres are now operating in Europe. The last that has been formed is the Cyprus ShortSea Promotion Centre (May 2006). These Promotion Centres work in line with the European Commission’s policy.
They are led by business interests that understand the benefits in having a neutral body that promotes the use of ShortSea Shipping. For instance, forward-looking road hauliers in Europe have already started co-operating with these Promotion Centres.
The Centres help existing as well as prospective Shortsea Shipping users with practical advice and information on short sea as an intermodal shipping alternative to road transport. They increase awareness of shortsea with shippers, forwarders and transport companies and they analyse bottlenecks hindering the development of shortsea.
And since shipping is an international business with customers at both ends of a shortsea route, advice and help are required in both ends. Therefore, all the Promotion Centres are being networked at European level through the European Shortsea Network.
The European Shortsea Network allows potential Shortsea Shipping users to benefit, not only from full geographic coverage but also from the collective expertise of individual Centres. The mission of the European Shortsea Network is to:
‘Promote shortsea shipping to achieve a higher share of the growing European intermodal transport volume’
The aims of the Network are:
- to strengthen the activities of the national SPC’s;
- to exchange concrete information and latest developments in the sector;
- to exchange of ideas and best practices, and
- to support new Centres.
It is up to each Centre to decide under the national legal framework the form of its legal personality, such as a non-profit-making association, public or private. The current Promotion Centres show a wide variety. One should, however, remember that neutrality might suffer, if the Centres became purely profit-making bodies, such as consultants that might be seen to forward their own interests. This of course does not exclude a Centre from having commercial activity to pay for its own costs. The existing Centres are generally non-profit-making associations. They can be separate legal persons under the national legal framework (i.e the Netherlands, Italy, Cyprus) or part of a University (i.e Finland) or a public promotion body (i.e. UK, Ireland) or a half-public promotion body (i.e. Sweden, Norway).
The Promotion Centres have several approaches to financing their activities. These approaches vary between government financing, membership fees and payment for work done. In principle it is up to the Centres and the bodies that establish them to decide on the right financial balance.
Two of the pre-requisites that all the Centres should fulfil are the Centres’ neutrality and credibility. The Centres need to be seen by the outside world as forwarding the interests of Shortsea Shipping and not those of an individual branch of industry. A Centre situated in a port, financed by the port authorities alone would have difficulties in creating a neutral image, especially if the
country has several ports competing with each other. In the same way, a Centre financed by shipowners alone would lack overall credibility. Therefore, the best way is to have a wide financing basis for the Centres. This financing should come from a wide variety of industries that can see the benefits in Shortsea Shipping, shipowners, ports, road hauliers, freight forwarders, shippers, etc. In most cases the State plays a major role in financing, which also is an important element in credibility and neutrality.
The European Commission has given start-up financial support to new Promotion Centres through specific subventions to the European Shortsea Network.