Mardi 19 Novembre 2019  

N°86 - Deuxième trimestre 2009

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Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine: Promoting Inland Waterway Transport

By Mr. Jean-Marie Woehrling, Secretary General of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR)

The Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR) is the world’s oldest still-active international organization. Its creation dates back to the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna, issued on 9 January 1815. The Vienna Congress retooled an already existing institution (the General Administration for Rhine Tolls, created with the signing of a convention between France and the German Empire on 15 August 1804), giving it a new mission and a brand-new name.
The legal base of the CCNR is the Revised Convention on the Navigation of the Rhine (17 October 1868), a treaty that has been amended several times over the years. The CCNR is headquartered in Strasbourg and has five member states: Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Freedom of Navigation and Prosperity on the Rhine
The main task of the CCNR is to guarantee “freedom of navigation” and to promote “prosperous navigation” all along the Rhine, from Basel to Rotterdam. To that end, it has abolished all tolls and taxation stations along the Rhine, set up uniform regulations for the full length of the river, and guaranteed operating freedom to service providers. It has also coordinated all development work on the river and ensured close permanent cooperation between the economic actors involved in Rhine navigation so that any problems raised by transport on the river can be easily resolved.
Despite three wars pitting Germany against France, and repeated economic crises, the CCNR has carried out its mission successfully for more than 200 years, making the Rhine Europe’s premier waterway and one of the most important waterways in the world.

Keys for Successful Navigation of the Rhine
Some 320 million tons of cargo are transported on the Rhine every year. Steel products and coal constituted the bulk of this cargo for many years and still account for a good part of the traffic. The array of cargo transported on the river has been expanded to include petroleum and chemical products, building materials, agricultural products and a variety of bulk goods transported by container. Tourism activities are also booming along the river, which is plied by numerous passenger ships.
The Rhine has excellent infrastructures: relatively stable hydrological processes, a guaranteed laden draft, a modern fleet, efficient infrastructures and a river information service (RIS) that makes it possible to navigate the waterway around the clock, all year long.
The Rhine has been governed for over a century by uniform rules that guarantee a high level of security, fast integration of technological advances, effective heed of economic imperatives and adequate social security coverage for boatsmen. A well organized industry that is keenly aware of its long-term interests can, indeed, interact responsibly with public authorities.
The Rhine has several dynamic ports that serve as multimodal logistics platforms connecting the waterway with other modes of transport. It should be underscored that its seaports (Rotterdam, Antwerp, Amsterdam) complement each other extremely well, with the Rhine serving as a key link between maritime navigation and the hinterland.

Steering European Inland Navigation

More than two-thirds of European inland navigation is conducted on the Rhine. Until fifteen years ago, it was the only waterway with a free market and rules that guaranteed fair competition.
In the mid 1990s, EU law extended the principles of free circulation of goods and equal treatment for transport services to the entire European Union. The Union adopted most of the existing regulations governing the technical aspects of transport on the Rhine (technical requirements for vessels, prescriptions for the transport of dangerous goods on the Rhine, etc.).
The CCNR works closely with the European Commission and has reached out to non-EU member river States by granting them observer status within the organization. It has become a leading navigation expertise center and is the main European forum for studying and debating important issues related to inland waterway transport. The CCNR plays a coordinating role, working hand-in-hand with the various European organizations that oversee inland navigation.

Challenges and Opportunities of Modern Navigation on Inland Waterways
Old-time river navigation (small vessels, traffic closely regulated by national authorities, limited activity for bulk cargo barges, etc.) has been replaced by a modern, competitive, diversified and dynamic mode of transport.
As other modes of transport grow increasingly congested, waterways still hold strong growth potential and offer environmentally-friendly transportation conditions (excellent energy used/service provided ratio; low CO2 emissions, limited external costs, possibility of incorporating the navigable waterway into a natural environment). In our “just in time” era, the reliability of inland waterway transport makes up for its relative slowness. New technologies have led to productivity gains and lowered costs. From every point of view, this mode of transport clearly has a bright future in regions with navigable waterways.
Like other sectors, inland waterway transport has been hit very hard by the current economic crisis. It is also under threat from climate change, which could disturb waterway hydrology (longer periods with strong water swells and drops). But these challenges also afford new opportunities. Climate change, for instance, will force us to take steps to limit polluting emissions, making inland navigation all the more competitive and opening up new markets for this mode of transport (biomass transport, etc.).
On June 24-25 of this year the CCNR held a conference in Bonn focusing on “Navigation on the Rhine and Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities.” The conference gave us a chance to map out development paths for this mode of transport in the 21st-century European economic system. It also confirmed the guiding role played by the CCNR, a 200-year-old international institution that champions and promotes inland navigation.
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