Because of their critical strategic role, ports have all traditionally been subject to some form of government control even if the legal form and the intensity of this control have varied across countries. The member countries of the European Union have not been different from the rest of the world in this respect. A significant difference however is the recurrent effort to integrate, in a coordinated way, the port sector in a trans-European transport network (TEN-T) through the adoption of a common legal framework. In this context, if the objective of the reforms is to ensure that port networks, integrated in combined transport networks, become competitors of the road network, the concept of port efficiency becomes central. This paper provides an overview of the evolution of the European Port Legislation and shows how comparative economic measures can be used to highlight the scope for port efficiency improvements, essential to allow short sea shipping transport to compete with road transport in Europe. To our knowledge, this paper is also the first effort of estimating technical efficiency of European Port Authorities. The average port efficiency in 2002 was estimated to be around 60%, denoting that ports could have handled 40% more traffic with the same resources. Maritime Economics & Logistics (2007) 9, 148171. doi:10.1057/palgrave.mel.9100177
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