IT IS THE controversial proposal that city politicians say could put European Union handcuffs on Southampton’s port.

New plans have been unveiled to control cargo-handling prices at the port as well as investment in infrastructure.

The EU says that appointing a port regulator would improve the performances of ports across the continent and create a better network.

But politicians in Southampton say it will put jobs and investment at risk and are calling on the EU to scrap the plans.

It is the third time the EU has proposed the legislation, after being forced to withdraw it in the face of fierce opposition the two previous times it was proposed.

They are currently being considered by the European Commission’s transport committee and if passed could come into force at the end of the year.

Unlike other transport sectors, there is no EU legislation on access to services, financial transparency or charging for infrastructure use.

If the regulations are approved it could mean officials appointed by Brussels could have the chance to intervene on prices within Southampton’s port.

But Southampton Itchen MP John Denham has argued that jobs and investment would be at risk if the regulation is approved.

The Labour MP has combined forces with 22 fellow MPs from constituencies with ports to write to Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to block the proposals.

They argue that the regulations’ “one size fits all” approach could damage the UK’s port industry.

The letter adds: “The Commission’s proposed regulation will interfere with the commercial freedom of our ports and undermine their ability to attract investment in essential national infrastructure.

“As an island nation, our ports are essential for jobs, investment and economic growth.

“Some 95 per cent of the UK’s trade in goods moves by sea. Our major ports contribute £21 billion to GDP every year and support over 400,000 jobs.”

Mr Denham said: “This would change the whole way the port operates, and could see prices set not by competition between ports but by an official from the EU.

“Southampton has the most productive container port in Europe, and one of the most productive in the whole world.

“Any interference is likely to not be in the interests of anyone working in the port, or connected to it.”

But Siim Kallas, the European Commissioner for Transport, said regulation could benefit under-performing ports across the continent.

He said: “Today there is no EU legislation on the provision of port services.

“There is a patchwork of national regulations, with striking differences from one member state to another.

“The disparities of performance between different European ports affect the distribution of cargo flows and on the organisation of logistic chains across Europe.

“Poor-performing ports represent a missed opportunity – and wasted resources – for the creation of added value and jobs for the concerned regions.”