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“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable,” said the 19th-century German statesman Otto von Bismarck – a sentiment not wasted on the European Parliament and Council negotiators as they came to a late-night compromise this week.
The agreement on the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) unlocks more than €30 billion in funding for transport, digital, and energy projects.
Negotiations had come to a standstill primarily due to the Council agreeing to allocate funding for ‘Rail Baltica’ – a highspeed rail link running through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – via the CEF programme, much to the chagrin of the European Parliament.
CEF transport funding is divided into two envelopes – one for cohesion countries and one for all member states. The Rail Baltica funding was to be drawn from the latter, a de facto earmarking MEPs saw as breaching standard procedure.
MEPs argued that funds from the general envelope must be open to all EU countries and awarded through standard competitive practice.
EURACTIV understands that a compromise was reached – priority will be given to rail projects in cohesion countries, but without explicit earmarking. Read the full story, including reactions, below.
Aviation: green (fuel) is the new black
A proposal is expected to be published later this month mandating the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) for EU flights (whether the regulation ends up as intra-EU only or intercontinental remains to be seen). Dubbed the ‘ReFuelEU’ Aviation regulation, the proposal is likely to require airlines to use a set percentage of low-carbon sustainable aviation fuels, such as e-fuels or biofuels, in their fuel mix.
Sources with knowledge of the upcoming proposal indicate that there will be an overall mandate covering SAFs, with a starting point of 2% in 2025, moving to 5% in 2030, 20% in 2035, 32% in 2040, and 63% in 2050.
Penalties in case of non-compliance are also being considered, the same sources indicate.
Industry is broadly welcoming of the move to legislate on SAFs, but opinions differ over the blending percentage that should be enacted. Read more below.
One of the more contentious issues is whether the ReFuelEU Aviation regulation should apply to long-haul flights destined for beyond Europe.
Budget airlines such as Ryanair, easyJet, and Wizz Air argue that the SAF mandate should cover all flights departing from the EU, regardless of the destination, while others argue that applying the SAF mandate to intercontinental flights too quickly could harm the competitiveness of EU carriers and lead to airlines refuelling elsewhere (read the full debate below).
Europe’s pilots have also joined the call for a ramp-up of SAFs.
“We support the EU Green Deal and we believe SAFs are giving us a pathway to meet the Paris Agreement goals,” said Otjan de Bruijn, president of the European Cockpit Association (ECA).
The pilots’ organisation says that choosing the right SAFs is imperative, warning against focusing on crop-based biofuels.
“This was the case in the road sector, which relied heavily on unsustainable, food-based biofuels. We need to do better. Aviation must commit to supporting advanced fuels made from wastes, residues and even more importantly – electrofuels,” the ECA said in a statement.
The draft ReFuelEU Aviation regulation is expected to be published in early April at the latest.
Meanwhile, British engine-maker Rolls-Royce announced losses totalling four billion pounds (€4.6 billion) in 2020 due to the pandemic-driven downturn in flying, according to a report by Reuters.
Road transport: catching up to China and the movement to ban fossil-fuels
European Commission Vice-President Maros Šefčovič announced on Friday (12 March) that the EU is closing the battery production gap with its Asian competitors and moving towards battery autonomy. The progress meant 2020 was “the year of the electric car in Europe” he said.
“We are now set to become the second-largest battery cell producer in the world, behind China. Moreover, nearly 30 announced projects should largely satisfy the EU demand for batteries driven by e-mobility,” he said at a press event in Brussels. Read the full speech here.
Nine EU countries called on the European Commission to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars last week, Reuters reports.
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, and the Netherlands wrote to the EU imploring legislators to accelerate the shift to zero-emission vehicles.
The move is likely to be unpopular with the major car-producing nations, particularly Germany. The car manufacturers themselves have already strongly criticised purported moves in Brussels to restrict the use of internal combustion engines. But pressure is mounting on lawmakers to act.
The EU’s upcoming ReFuelEU proposal, aimed at cutting emissions in the aviation sector, will apply a staggered blending mandate for green jet fuel, with the percentage scaling up in roughly five-year intervals, EURACTIV understands.
The aviation industry is divided on whether an expected EU mandate on green jet fuel should include all flights departing from the bloc or be restricted to inter-EU flights, with the fault line running largely between budget airlines and legacy carriers.
Following lengthy and at times contentious negotiations, the European Parliament and Council agreed on Thursday (11 March) on the Connecting Europe Facility, making available over €30 billion in funding for transport, digital, and energy projects.
In collaboration with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Air Serbia will start testing the IATA Travel Pass, a new mobile application helping travellers to manage their trips easily and securely, in line with government requirements for COVID-19 testing or vaccination.