In 2001, the Commission presented a White Paper proposing 60 measures to overhaul the EU’s transport policy in order to make it more sustainable and avoid huge economic losses due to congestion, pollution and accidents. A 2006 mid-term update attempts to re-balance the policy towards economic objectives.

Overview

In 2001, the EU's transport policy was facing a number of challenges: 

  • the continued rise in freight and passenger transport; 
  • road congestion; 
  • environmental pressures; 
  • safety and quality of life problems. 

To address these problems, the main objectives of the Commission’s White Paper on transport were: 

  • decoupling economic growth and transport growth; 
  • shifting the balance between modes of transport by 2010, by curbing the demand for road transport via pricing mechanisms and revitalising alternative transport modes such as railways, maritime and inland waterway transport (inter-modality); 
  • having taxation systems reflect the true costs of transport, including external costs such as environmental damage, congestion, or human accidents; 
  • making transport systems more efficient and safer. 

In the last five years, the White paper has led to various policy initiatives:  

  • Adoption of a Regulation reinforcing air passengers rights (e.g. with airline overbooking); 
  • Improving road safety: the European road safety action programme was launched and two Communications on eSafety (see our LinksDossier on eSafety), laying down a set of measures for supporting the development of safer and more intelligent vehicles, were adopted, with the overall objective of improving road safety and halving the number of road deaths by 2010; 
  • Preventing congestions by promoting intermodality, through the 'Marco Polo' programmes I and II, and with the adoption of new TEN-T Guidelines establishing a legal framework for the funding of motorways of the sea
  • Revision of the ‘Eurovignette’ directive, creating a harmonised EU framework for charging heavy goods vehicles on European motorways, so as to reflect the 'external costs' of transport, including environmental damage, congestion, and accidents and to promote the 'modal shift' (See EurActiv 15 December 2005). 
  • Improving infrastructure in the context of trans-European networks and integration of the new Member States into the network (see Euractiv 11 May 2004); 
  • Reinforcement of the position of railways, with the adoption of three packages of measures aimed at market liberalisation and harmonisation. 

Issues

The Commission presented a review of the White Paper on 22 June 2006 (see EurActiv 23 June 2006), which states that the 2001 objectives are still relevant but that, over the last five years, the context defining Europe’s transport policy has changed: 

  • Enlargement: whereas the EU-15 are suffering from congestion and pollution, accessibility remains the real problem for the EU-10. 
  • Globalisation  is accelerating, further challenging Europe’s competitiveness and economic growth. 
  • Oil prices have increased dramatically. 
  • The Kyoto Protocol came into force, generating emission reduction commitments for Europe. 
  • Transport networks experienced particularly deadly terrorist attacks

In order to adapt to these changes, the Commission proposes a number of new tools to achieve its objective of sustainable transport: 

  • Decoupling transport growth from its negative effects: In stark contrast with the 2001 White Paper, no reference to curbing transport demand is made in the revised paper, which instead stresses the need to disconnect mobility from its negative consequences. 
  • The ‘modal shift’: Although the Commission maintains that this remains a priority, the focus has been shifted towards ‘co-modality’ - or the optimised use of all modes of transport – rather than ‘inter-modality’. Co-modality can be achieved by facilitating the passage from one transport mode to another via the harmonisation of standards and the integration of the various transport modes into efficient logistics chains. This will be the aim of a Commission logistics action plan to be adopted in 2007. 
  • Energy Efficiency: In accordance with the EU’s energy agenda (see our LinksDossier on the Energy Green Paper), much more attention is paid to increasing energy efficiency in the transport sector. The Commission plans to present a strategic technology plan for energy use in transport in 2007 and will launch a programme on ‘green-powered vehicles’ in 2009 (see our LinksDossier on Green cars). 
  • Intelligent Transport Systems: The use of new technologies in all transport modes will cut costs, boost energy efficiency and improve security by providing new services to citizens, such as real-time management of traffic flows and tracking possibilities. 
  • Urban transport: Mobility in urban areas is an everyday problem for Europe’s citizens. In order to encourage local authorities to better tackle congestion, pollution and accidents, the Commission will launch a Green Paper on Urban Transport in 2007. 
  • Smart charging: By 10 June 2008, the Commission will present a model for infrastructure charging based on the assessment of all external costs accompanied by an impact analysis of the internalisation of external costs for all modes of transport. 

Positions

The European Parliament is divided on the review. EPP-ED MEPs, Georg Jarzembowski and Ari Vatanen, believe the Commission has moved towards a more realistic and feasible policy by moving away from the concept of “modal shift” and towards that of “co-modality”. They welcome the acknowledgement of the importance of road and air transport. 

The Greens/EFA group, on the other hand, accuse the Commission of stepping back on its commitment to a sustainable transport policy by abandoning the “modal shift” from road to rail. MEPs Eva Lichtenberger and Michael Cramer say the proposal to promote all transport modes will be detrimental to sustainability, health and the environment. 

An own-initiative report by Hungarian MEP Etelka Barsi-Partaky (EPP-ED) supports the view that the modal shift must remain a priority but states that Europe's transport policy will in any case remain weak unless member states speed up implementation of EU laws and if no new alternative and innovative means of financing for infrastructure are proposed. 

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) welcomes the Commission’s move away from a policy of forced modal shift and its recognition of the important economic role of road transport. However, it laments the under-investment in new road infrastructure under the TENs programme. It criticizes the idea of “smart charging” for increasing costs for transport enterprises and consumers and urges more attention for Europe’s cleanest, safest and most common mode of transport – buses. 

The association of European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM) warns against moving away from the modal shift in favour of co-modality as this will hinder the move towards more environmentally friendly modes of transport such as rail. Instead, it urges the Commission to bring forward its smart charging agenda. It also supports the Commission’s intention to enforce EU legislation on rail liberalisation through infringement procedures as this will lead to strong benefits for customers. 

The European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) says that the revised European transport policy is unsustainable, fails to set clear objectives for reducing pollutant and noise emissions, and completely ignores the health and environment objectives set out just six days earlier in the EU ‘Sustainable Development Strategy’ (See Euractiv 19 June 2006). 

Timeline

  • 12 October 2006: Transport ministers held a first debate on the proposal.
  • 8 May 2007: Parliament's transport committee adopted an own-initiative report, drafted by Hungarian MEP Etelka Barsi-Pataky (EPP-ED), criticising lack of funds and implementation of EU legislation in the transport sector (EurActiv 9/05/07).
  • 10 July 2007: Plenary vote on the transport committee's own-initative report.