Jan Lagasse, honorary consul-general for the Netherlands in Flanders and also former CEO of North Sea Port and professor at Ghent University, has been involved in setting up both the Dutch and Flemish strategy. The latter will be officially used this month.
“There are many similarities between the two,” says Lagasse. ‘The importance of the ports becomes more important in both memorandums than in the past. In addition, I see that the focus is on subjects other than accessibility and infrastructure. These were typically the typical port topics, but now more attention is being paid to sustainability, energy transition, digitization and geopolitical flights. Port cooperation, both domestic and cross-border, is also being looked at more than before.’
Ports like Rotterdam and Antwerp are known for seeing each other as disappearing, but according to Lagasse, that’s about to change. ‘There are new social transactions that cross borders between both ports and where one’s own strengths cannot immediately be put first. Issues such as energy transition, a circular economy and digitization transcend ports and offer enormous opportunities for collaboration. The willingness to work together on some of those issues is now much greater. Just look at the North Sea Port merger port and the merger between Antwerp and Zeebrugge.’
Nevertheless, they continue to exist, for example when attracting companies and cargo flows. Its own regional interests are and will remain large.
A driver for better cooperation between the ports in the Delta region could be the storage of CO2. The Netherlands has empty gas fields in which this could be done, and is already working on it through the Athos and Porthos project. Belgium does not have such fields. The investments are enormous, in the billions, and the Netherlands also benefits from having a guarantee for as much as possible for a long time to come. The storage projects will therefore benefit from the CO2 emissions of the Antwerp and North Sea Port companies.
Lagasse: ‘But also think of the development of hydrogen infrastructure and legislation in that area. This can be stimulated by making conversations. A good example of this is electrification in the Zeeland-Flemish canal zone. That is absolutely necessary. The greening of parties such as Dow and Yara will not be successful without a 380 kV substation. This is possible from the Netherlands, but also from Belgium. You have to make agreements about this and then lay them down in a treaty between implementation. As was the case with the construction of the lock in Terneuzen.’
Also according to Albert Veenstra, professor at the Rotterdam School of Management and scientific director of TKI Dinalog, the Porthos project could plan a good start for more cooperation between the ended. ‘I think more weight is given to the energy transition in the Port Memorandum. That means that the ports are on board in that area. Because the investments are huge. You can use each other to do things together.’
For the proven companies in a port area, such as the transport companies, shipping companies and 3PLs, it is equally necessary, according to Lagasse, that the energy issues for the production companies are solved. ‘If the industry walks away, the companies will also suffer as a result.’
When it comes to the business climate and the end of industry, Dutch and Flemish ports have already completely expired. Therefore, a region may be tempted to be a little less powerful when it comes to environmental standards. But that is less, according to Lagasse rossen.
These standards are increasingly determined by European directives. There can of course be a difference and the Netherlands sometimes wants to be the best boy in the class, but the differences are not that big. The problem of nitrogen is now also abundant in Flanders.’
The port of Antwerp has grown faster than Rotterdam in recent years, but according to Lagasse, the time has passed when we have to concentrate on volumes. ‘The challenge in all port complexes is to maintain that industrial fabric. Then the cargo will come by itself.’
Although, according to Veenstra, you should not make the ports responsible for national strategies to maintain the industrial complex in a country. ‘They mainly have an executive function for the business community that makes the port.’
Nevertheless, Lagasse sees more topics in which the national and cross-border regional governments act jointly. For example, we recently had the Flemish-Dutch summit. What is still missing is a structure to make progress in the coming years. It often depends on the goodwill of the availability to give further to the agreements and agreements made. Work is already underway, but there is still room for an extra step. After all, there are not in the field of cross-border infrastructure, but also, for example, in the social field of education.’
The first close collaboration between Flemish and Dutch ports was the merger port of North Sea Port. Not to be directly a blueprint for cooperation between other ports, says Lagasse. ‘The problems in the North Sea Port region are not necessarily the same as in the other port areas. You can’t compare that one to one. After all, it must be based on a good business case in order to surprise the shareholders as well. It requires some of the political administrators to give up part of their harbor for a stake in a greater whole that is further out of their sphere of influence. In the case of North Sea Port, that was successful, but the process did not.’
And where Rotterdam and Antwerp used to be each other’s predominant, we need to use Lagasse more in the past. ‘We have a free market economy in Europe. But now you will have your own shipping companies and companies, which will soon no longer make their choices based on service, quality and price, but on the basis of political force majeure. Players from outside who can even have their own ports, as in the Greek Piraeus. I worry about that. In Europe we sell infrastructure as ports to the Chinese. Furthermore, there are attempts to sell the energy infrastructure to them. My Chinese friends don’t understand Europe’s naivete in that regard either. We have to protect our economies from that. This is a challenge that both the Dutch and Belgian governments are increasingly confronted with. A joint port policy as a critical infrastructure for the entire economy in Northwestern Europe is part of this.’
Watch the interview with Jan Lagasse and Albert Veenstra on NT TV:
Flemish Dutch Harbor Days
On September 29 and 30 we will discuss this subject further during the Flemish Dutch Port Days that we, as Nieuwsblad Transport Structure, will be holding together with the Dutch Consulate General in Antwerp, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Flemish Department of Mobility and Public Works. We invite you all to participate.
For more information, visit vlaamsnederlandsehavendagen.nl.