France Loses Out on Brexit billions: Belgian and Dutch ports picked for new Irish route
French ports were excluded from plans adopted by the European Commission to create shipping routes from Ireland to the rest of the Continent while avoiding Britain – which could cost Paris billions of euros in EU grants.
The Commission, the EU’s powerful executive, decided to create a direct shipping route by connecting Dublin and Cork with the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and the Belgian ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge.
A Commission spokesman said: “This is to guarantee the connectivity of Ireland with maintain Europe, in particular by ensuring clarity and continuity as regards future priorities for infrastructure development and investments.”
A diagram, dated July 11 and published on the Commission’s website, seven French seaports – Roscoff, Brest, Cherborug, Le Havre, Caen, Calais and Dunkerque – were listed on map with connections to Ireland, suggesting they were once considered routes.
French ports and business groups attempted to lobby Brussels but to no avail. Six of seven reports as part of a consultation said the route should run through France.
In the EU’s draft budget for 2021-2027, there is a proposed €30.6 billion available for its Connecting Europe Facility – which is designed to assist with major infrastructure upgrades across the bloc.
This means France could lose out on billions of EU funding as the Dutch and Belgian ports can apply for funds to increase their capacity ahead of the new routes being opened.
Funding is still far from a guarantee as handouts are heavily reliant on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, because the routes would only be needed in the event of a no deal, and still need to be adopted by the European Parliament and Council.
Martin Selmayr, the German head of the EU’s civil service, has been leading a team preparing for the possibility of a British no deal divorce.
In a briefing to MEPs in June, he stressed the importance of Ireland not being cut off financially from the rest of the EU as a result of Brexit. In the event of no deal, Dublin will become mostly cut off from Northern European ports due to its geographical location and the reliance using the Dover-Calais route.
The document, briefed by Mr Selmayr to MEPs, said: “The proposal will design a new maritime route to link Ireland with the continental part of the North Sea-Mediterranean corridor.”
The new North Sea-Mediterranean route aims to redirect billions of euros worth of trade from the usual overlands route through Britain to Belgium and Netherlands.
While French ports have missed out, the country’s rail operator SNCF have also been left frustrated after requesting the high-speed rail network linking Paris and Brussels to London should remain included in the transport corridor.
SNCF argued the UK should be kept within the EU’s North Sea- Mediterranean corridor after Brexit.
In its report, the firm said: “SNCF invites the involved parties to avoid hurdles to investments enhancing the existing rail infrastructure connecting the EU and the UK and to consider keeping the Paris-Lille-London/Brussels high speed rail network included in the NSM corridor after Brexit.”
The French rail operator added it is because the “high speed network is both technically homogeneous and strategic from a market viewpoint.”