Two European ports in merger talks

Port of Antwerp The port authorities of Antwerp (pictured) and Zeebrugge are in talks about a merger. Image: Port of Antwerp

Two European port authorities are set to begin negotiations for a possible phased merger to strengthen their operations.

The port authorities of Antwerp and Zeebrugge in Belgium said they have had constructive discussions about intensifying their current cooperation and synergies since the beginning of 2018, but have now given the go-ahead for merger negotiations, expected to take around two years.

Dirk De Fauw, chairman of the Port of Zeebrugge, said: “We have been talking with the Port of Antwerp for some time now to see how we can work more closely together with the aim of strengthening each other’s platforms. The ambition of both our port authorities is to form a future-proof port with a complete offering from A to Z.”

Economic study

The decision to begin negotiations is based on the findings of an economic study carried out by consultancy firms Deloitte and Laga. The study evaluated the current forms of cooperation, the possible added value of all potential forms of cooperation, including an economically interesting merger and potential management scenarios.

The research concluded that current collaborations have limited impact because of the traditional competition between the two ports, a scope that’s too limited, and a lack of commitment. However, the report also stated that Antwerp and Zeebrugge are highly complementary and face the same challenges.

“Far-reaching cooperation makes both ports more robust in existing domains, consolidates local employment and strengthens the ports’ roles in Flanders and internationally,” stated Deloitte.

“Intensified cooperation will also enable the ports to respond more quickly and effectively to future opportunities such as economies of scale, energy transition, innovation and digitalization. Even more, clients of both ports are also in favour of increased collaboration between Antwerp and Zeebrugge. In short, cooperation can yield strong win-win results for both ports, provided that there is a far-reaching integration between the two port authorities. As a result, a holding company and merger were the only management models retained in the governance analysis.”

Port of the future

Annick De Ridder, Port of Antwerp Alderman, said: “Deloitte's research indicates that our ports are highly complementary and that we face similar challenges. Together, we can turn Antwerp and Zeebrugge into the port of the future faster and more effectively by focusing on domains such as energy transition, innovation and digitalization.

“We are starting formal merger talks with Zeebrugge because we are confident that this will enable us to reinforce our position as the main gateway to Europe.”

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