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EU’s drug-busting ports alliance excludes Chinese-owned Piraeus

by editor

BRUSSELS — The EU last week launched a European Ports Alliance to fight drug trafficking, but one of its largest ports is barred from participating due to its Chinese ownership.

The Chinese-owned port authority of Piraeus, Greece was not among the invitees to last Wednesday’s port alliance launch, judging from a list seen by POLITICO. “Ports owned and (majority) controlled by non-EU member states have been excluded,” the list reads.

The Chinese group COSCO Shipping owns two-thirds of the port of authority of Piraeus, the 14th-largest port in Europe (with millions of metric tons in freight handled, according to Eurostat), which specializes in handling large containers and is the largest trans-shipment hub in the Eastern Mediterranean. Twenty-six other port authorities are on the invitee list, which was assembled based on their size and exposure to drug trafficking, as well as to observe a geographical balance within the EU.

While Piraeus is not the main entry point for drugs to Europe, the decision to block it from the new ports alliance raises questions about the EU’s ability to guarantee security at critical infrastructure that are foreign-owned. Brussels also presented new measures and strategies to strengthen its economic security last week, including revamping FDI monitoring in critical sectors.

The port authority of Piraeus did not respond to a request for comment. The Belgian Ministry for Interior Affairs, which co-hosted the alliance’s launch, reverted to the explanation on the invitees list when asked why Piraeus had not been invited.

The new European Ports Alliance was jointly initiated by the Belgian government, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, to reinforce port security, combat corruption and stop illegal drugs from entering the Continent. The alliance will connect governments, EU officials, law enforcement, port authorities, shipping companies and terminal operators to share best practices in countering organized crime groups and drug trafficking.

Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden, who chaired the launch, told POLITICO at the end of last year that data-sharing is one of the desired outcomes of the alliance.

Last year was record-breaking in terms of cocaine seizures in Belgium and the Netherlands. Violence from gangs fighting for control of trafficking routes, or from law-enforcement pushback, prompted local politicians to call on the EU to step in.

The new alliance builds on a collaboration between Belgium and the Netherlands. Last February the governments of the two countries signed an agreement with the mayors of port cities Antwerp and Rotterdam as well as with five shipping companies (MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag Lloyd and Seatrade) to fight “narco-terrorism.”

This article has been updated after the launch of the ports alliance.

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