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Creation of Dunkirk Major Sea Port: an important factor in port recovery

Bassin de l'Atlantique - Port Ouest

The French Port Reform, announced in the early summer of 2007, was defined in the law of 4 July 2008 whose implementing orders have just been published. The Autonomous Sea Ports regime is now obsolete in metropolitan France, having been replaced by the Major Sea Ports regime. "Grand Port Maritime de Dunkerque" (Dunkirk Major Sea Port) has assumed the undertakings of the autonomous port authority, as well as the debts of the former public establishment.

The reform has two aspects: a change in port governance and a refocusing of missions. Like the Autonomous Sea Port, the Major Sea Port is a State public establishment.

New governance

One of the concerns of the authorities is to improve the ports' responsiveness by facilitating the decision-making process. According to the law, "the Executive Committee directs the establishment and is responsible for its management. To this end it is vested with full powers to act, in all circumstances, in the name of the Major Sea Port". 

The Executive Committee

In Dunkirk, the Executive Committee must be composed of three people and chaired by the General Director who is appointed by decree. While the decisions of this body are collegial, its chairperson has sole authority to manage the staff, which gives him or her the status of employer.

The Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees is composed of 17 members, including representatives of the State, local and regional authorities, port employees and qualified persons. It defines the Port's strategic guidelines and monitors its management on a continuous basis.

Development Council

The law has created a Development Council which is consulted regarding the strategic plan, the pricing policy and any questions put to it by the Board of Trustees or the Executive Committee. Its 30 members come from four committees representing the port community, the employees of the port businesses, local and regional authorities, and the qualified persons involved in the Port's development.

Refocusing of missions

Within the limits of its territory, the Major Sea Port creates, operates and maintains shipping access channels; is responsible for policing, safety and security in the meaning of Book III of the Sea Ports Code; manages its domain; manages and protects the natural areas which it owns or for which it is responsible; builds and maintains port infrastructures; promotes the offer of rail and waterway links; develops and manages the industrial or logistics area related to port activity; and takes action to promote the port generally.

Barring the exceptions stipulated in the Port's strategic plan, the law does not allow the Port to own and operate publicly-owned facilities. These must be sold within two years or, failing this, operated by subsidiaries or subcontractors. The staff responsible for their operation and maintenance will be seconded to the companies which become the owners of this equipment. The legislature has imposed unitary control of handling and storage operations.

Finally, the law sets a very short deadline for the adoption of the strategic plan and the framework agreement which specifies the procedure whereby staff employment contracts will continue within the cargo handling companies, as well as the rules for the social support of these employees.


 Robert Rézenthel, Legal Director, Dunkerque Port