MEP: Tajani ‘lame duck’ on greening transport


Green MEP Michael Cramer says the nomination of the Italian Antonio Tajani as transport commissioner is “a catastrophe” likely to result in a scaled-down fight against dirty road transport and its huge cost to the climate. 

Michael Cramer is a German Green MEP and the Greens’ transport spokesman.

To read a news article related to this interview, please click here.

The Commission’s proposal for a revised Eurovignette directive would not allow for the cost of CO2 emissions from transport to be included in tolls or other charges. How does this fit with the EU’s climate goals?

Let me first say that the change in transport commissioner is a catastrophe because it leaves us with two lame ducks for the next year – Mr. Barrot in the Liberties Committee and Mr. Tajani in the Transport Committee. Because in one year you can’t do a lot and it was well prepared that Mr. Barrot, together with the French Presidency, should work for this Eurovignette Directive, and now it has changed because in the party of Berlusconi and Tajani, there are a lot of truck drivers… 

As for my critics on the study – if you compare it to the rail sector, each locomotive on each kilometre of track has to pay tolls – that is mandatory in the European Union. And in countries like Poland and Slovakia, you have the highest tolls on rail and no or very low tolls on roads, and that is unfair competition. 

But do these tolls include environmental costs?

No, but there is not a limitation in the height, whereas in the Eurovignette Directive, there is a limitation in the height and member states are free to do it or not. 

What’s more, it is only on highways and only for trucks and only for trucks of more than 12 tonnes. That is the reality now. And the Commission’s study excludes accident and CO2 costs – the climate costs – which are 80% of all the costs that transport is generating. And if you exclude CO2 costs, you can’t fight against climate change. Instead of this, the Commission is proposing very high congestion costs. Yet that is not the problem we are facing now.

But the Commission argues that a congestion charge could in fact help bring down CO2 costs as well, by limiting congestion…

Yes. I asked Commissioner Tajani “What about the accidents?,” but he said that was the problem of insurance companies. But it is not, because if somebody is hurt in a transport accident, then he cannot go to work and someone has to replace him. And if someone is disabled for the rest of his life, it’s a cost that society has to bear. And those costs are due to the traffic, so it is ridiculous to exclude it. 

Then, for two years now, we have discussions about climate change. We even set up a temporary committee on climate change in the European Parliament, and then the study ignores this. 

Would also have favoured a more mandatory approach?

Yes of course! We want at least fair competition between the modes of transport. For example, if you compare railway to roads – I told you – and if you compare them to aircraft, the aircraft don’t pay kerosene tax although railways have to pay diesel tax. And aircraft are not included in the Emissions Trading Scheme yet – the decision to do this now has to be taken in 2012 – but railways are already in the ETS because they have to buy electricity and indirectly, they are in the system. 

And, if you buy a ticket from London to Brussels, you have to pay 20% value added tax. But on international flights you don’t have to pay. And that is unfair competition in favour of the modes of transport that are harmful for the climate, and not the opposite. 

And if you compare this with the renewable energy act in Germany, which is now a model for Europe, they make fossil fuel more expensive to subsidise renewables. Yet in the transport sector, we are doing just the opposite. So today, it is cheaper for a family to go by flight to Mallorca from Berlin than to go by train to the north of Germany! 

You mentioned Commissioner Tajani on several occasions. Do you think he is to blame for this watered down version of the Eurovignette review?

I don’t know. I think the Commission fears that the Council will not follow. 

What about the Parliament?

In the Parliament, we had a majority to raise tolls to at least to 60% more, because all the studies say external costs are 60% more than infrastructure costs. I hope that the Parliament will vote in a strong way – stronger than the Commission, but the conservatives are against it. We are working hard and we have to press; we have to push because we have public debate worldwide on our side. 

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