Commission ‘remains committed’ to connected car plans, despite Council blocking

A robot wearing an ADAC jacket looks at a Vodafone Connected Mobility GigaCar on display at the International Motor Show IAA in Frankfurt Main, Germany, 10 September 2019. [EPA-EFE/ALEX EHLERS]

The European Commission’s controversial bid to establish connectivity standards for next-generation vehicles, blocked by a group of member states just before the summer, remains an important area of the EU executive’s working schedule, EURACTIV has learnt.

An EU source told EURACTIV this week that despite the opposition of member states to the plans, “the Commission remains committed to the deployment of Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS),” adding that the executive will “continue to work together with member states to address their concerns and find a suitable way forward.” 

The original debate centred around Commission measures for how vehicles should be connected in the future, either by using 5G or WiFi networks. The proposal had been drafted as a Delegated Act, a fast-track procedure that legislates on the basis of input from EU countries.

Member states blocked the procedure just before the summer break – to the ire of the Commission’s DG Move, who had been forcibly advocating for standards that would see WiFi networks prioritised for the connected vehicles of the future.

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Commission’s ‘internal reflection’

Blocking member states had regarded the wording of the text to imply that WiFi connections were specifically regarded as the C-ITS system of choice, with Finland, in particular, writing a letter to the Council Presidency stating that “with the current wording of the act, only ITS-G5 i.e WiFi communication is considered as C-ITS.”

In the end, 21 member states, including Germany, France and Italy, voted against the EU’s proposal to use C-ITS. The Commission’s original act had been passionately defended by Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc on safety grounds, as well as the notion that Europe’s WiFi infrastructure is already well-established, unlike the bloc’s 5G networks.

EURACTIV understands that the Commission is now conducting an ‘internal reflection’ on C-ITS in order to chart the best way forward.

But the responsibility for this will be down to the incoming Commission, in which the Transport portfolio should be handed to Romania’s Rovana Plumb, who has not responded to EURACTIV’s request for comment on the Commission’s stance.

Commission President-elect Ursula Von der Leyen tasked the Romanian in her mission letter with having a “strong focus on digital innovation” and ensuring a “continued modernisation of key transport systems.”

Finland raises concerns in 5G vs WiFi connected vehicle debate

Finland has hit out at European Commission plans to develop cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS), saying the measures are “not technically neutral,” according to a letter obtained by EURACTIV.

US lobbying

Moreover, an industry source told EURACTIV on Thursday (18 September) that the issue was wholly more geopolitical than stakeholders previously realised, with heavy lobbying from US firms on the Commission’s DG Move.

Speaking to EURACTIV on Thursday, Rui Luis Aguiar, chair of the Steering Board for Networld 2020, a European research platform for communications networks and services, was clear that American lobbying had influenced the Commission’s proposal.

He referred to the Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC), widely seen as a rival to C-V2X technology, as being under American ownership, and therefore a reason why the US would want to lobby against C-V2X.

However, Luis Aguiar added that when European discussions on the Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems began, the technology was ‘non-existent,’ and as a result, he could understand the Commission’s apprehensive approach to prioritising the technology.

While the member states’ decision to block the Commission’s delegated act was welcomed by many in the telecommunications industry, the news that the EU’s executive branch remains committed to delivering C-ITS may already be causing a rethink among stakeholders.

During a recent trip to a C-V2X testing plant in Wuxi, China, it transpired that the company has been considering the potentiality of the delegated act returning in the incoming Commission.

“Key decisions will be taken in the future and those decisions should be made futureproof,” a Huawei executive told EURACTIV. “In that sense, we want to make a positive contribution to any ongoing discussions.”

In September of last year, there was a spike in the presence of European car manufacturers in Wuxi, testing the C-V2X system, with German car giants Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW all conducting trials using the technology.

These tests went by relatively unnoticed, but in order for them to be carried out, the carmakers were required to make use of Chinese mapping services and data providers. Not long after, the above manufacturers formed part of an alliance lobbying against the Commission’s plans to de-prioritise C-VX2 technology.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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