EU auditor’s recommendations contributing to a reassessment of public spending on port infrastructure in Italy
Graziano Delrio was Minister of Infrastructure and Transport in Italy from April 2015 to June 2018. When he was about 18 months in office as Minister, the ECA special report on maritime transport was published, presenting a rather unfavourable assessment of investment in port infrastructure in Italy and other EU countries. Graziano Delrio explains how he, as Minister in Italy, used this report as guidance and inspiration for adjusting spending priorities on port infrastructures in Italy.
By Graziano Delrio, Member of the Italian Parliament
Port capacity as focal point…
In 2016, the ECA published its special report 23/2015 Maritime transport in the EU: in troubled waters — much ineffective and unsustainable investment. This report, which assessed the effectiveness of national and EU investment in seaports turned out to be an important benchmark for our work in this area in Italy.
When I was appointed to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport in April 2015, we set out to analyse why our logistics system was uncompetitive. The severe imbalance between national infrastructure supply and demand soon became apparent. Italy’s quays could potentially handle over 18 million TEU — standing for Twenty foot Equivalent Unit, the unit of cargo often used to describe the capacity of container ships and terminals. This was, however, significantly above the 10–11 million TEU historically transported. Despite these existing imbalances, further coastal expansion measures were either planned or already underway to increase capacity by another 10 million TEU. None, or very few, of these measures were plans to invest in technological innovation or control systems, customs modernisation, ‘last mile’ connections between ports of national importance and the rail network or TEN-T corridors, ‘last mile’ road connections, or incentives to encourage a shift from all-road transport to road/rail or road/sea combinations.
Italian public expenditure on logistics was almost entirely focused on increasing port capacity. This was unnecessary, despite the large number of port and logistics operators. On the other hand, there was no provision for the factors needed for competitiveness, such as connections with inland terminals and networks, digitisation, simplification or support for multimodal transport.
… while interconnectivity was the key need
We then drew up the national strategic plan for ports and logistics, which the Italian government approved in August 2015. The plan set out the profound changes we had decided to make to the sector in ten strategic objectives and 50 specific actions covering standards, regulations, operation and administration.
One objective was a painstaking project review to reorient public resources from unnecessary infrastructure works to useful connections and innovations in the national logistics system. Some major projects, such as those in the ports of Ravenna, Augusta and Livorno, were reorganised and brought into line with traffic forecasts. We also put expansion works in places such as Civitavecchia and Venice on hold. Other projects, by contrast, were fast-tracked as they were strategic in making ports accessible by sea, starting with dredging the ports of Gioia Tauro and Naples. Many measures were completed, such as in Taranto, Cagliari and Messina.
We diverted the resources recovered from these complex project reviews to other types of intervention, in particular intangible infrastructure. We saw these as a priority in order to make Italian logistics more competitive. We recovered resources for one specific RFI programme, ‘Rail/ sea link — last mile’, on which we spent more than €200 million. We invested a further €40 million in digitising services and operations within the Customs Agency and Harbourmaster’s Office by introducing the PMIS and AIDA systems. Lastly, we used around €250 million to finance the Ferrobonus and Marebonus combined transport incentives.
… and EU — Member State cooperation part of the action
We invited Enrico Grassi, who had coordinated the ECA audits of seaports in Italy, to the second national ports and logistics forum held by our ministry in Livorno in 2017, to see for himself what a great inspiration the ECA special report was for our government. An excellent example of how EU auditors can make a helpful contribution to addressing key policy issues in a Member State!
This article was first published on the January-February 2019 issue of the ECA Journal. The contents of the interviews and the articles are the sole responsibility of the interviewees and authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Court of Auditors.