In its opinion adopted at the January plenary, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) supports transport multimodality and smart shipping, pointing out that inland waterway transport is essential for the future and needs to be maintained and developed.
The EU needs to continuously adapt European transport to current and future needs, especially in view of the changes in demand and the upwards trend in seaport turnover. The key features must be the principle of multimodality and smart shipping, i.e. tapping into the advantages of the various modes of transport to achieve the best possible results, while at the same time increasing safety and reducing the environmental burden.
This is the main message of the opinion drafted by Mateusz Szymański and adopted at the EESC's January plenary session, addressing the Commission's Communication on "NAIADES III: Boosting future-proof European inland waterway transport".
Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, Mr Szymański said:
NAIADES III is an important action plan. The EESC supports efforts to increase the share of inland waterway transport (IWT) in passenger and freight transport. There is huge potential in this area, which is still lying dormant. We need political will and commitment at many levels to set up support measures for the development and maintenance of infrastructure and the promotion of IWT as a career sector. The TEN-T network also needs to be updated to respond to new transport trends.
Development and maintenance: infrastructure is key
The Commission takes into account the significant problems of developing inland waterway transport; therefore, in principle, the EESC supports the proposed goals and objectives of the Communication. However, the Committee recommends prioritising objectives in order to bring about real change: what is needed is, first of all, in the long-term, the development and maintenance of current waterway infrastructure, then, in the short-term, the development of IWT in cities.
In the EESC's view, the changes planned by the Commission will not be effective unless there is appropriate infrastructure underpinning the development and maintenance of this mode of transport. Without the prospect of improving navigation conditions on waterways, ship owners will not take the risk of investing in a modern fleet, and the local authorities of individual countries will not be interested in creating intermodal terminals.
New technologies call for new skills and qualifications for crews
Significant emphasis should also be placed on issues relating to the situation of crews. New technologies require new skills and qualifications, and investment in this area is needed. The lack of action poses threats relating to the safety of workers, crews and passengers.
The EESC therefore stresses the need for Member States to properly implement Directive (EU) 2017/2397 on the recognition of professional qualifications in inland navigation. In addition, employment conditions, including working time rules, adequate social protection legislation for the posting of workers and occupational health and safety in the sector, should be improved.
European, national and local authorities must join forces
The EESC also points out that many of the announced and planned actions have so far not been implemented. It is therefore vital that the European, national and local authorities be fully involved and determined to achieve these objectives, taking into account their respective competences.
This also applies to funding sources, which should take into account both European and national funding. In this respect, the EESC notes with disappointment that, unfortunately, investment in IWT features only to a limited extent in the national recovery plans submitted by the Member States.
In line with the EU's climate neutrality and zero pollution goal, the European Green Deal and the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy set out the objectives to increase the role of inland waterway transport and to make all transport modes more sustainable.
Inland waterway transport is key to the EU's efforts to decarbonise the transport system, being one of the most CO2-efficient modes of transport, along with rail.
In order to substantially increase the share of inland freight carried by inland waterway transport, in June 2021 the Commission presented the Navigation and Inland Waterway Action and Development in Europe (NAIADES) III action plan 2021-2027.
This Communication sets out a pathway to enable this transformation, meeting the ambitions for the green and digital transition of the sector, while offering attractive and sustainable jobs.