Ari Vatanen slams “utopian” EU transport policy

The Finn rally driver and MEP has launched a methodical attack on EU plans to promote alternatives to road transport for being too costly, inefficient and disconnected from reality.

Ari Vatanen MEP (EPP-ED, France) on 12 July launched an attack on the European transport policy objective to support alternatives to road including railways and public transports.

At a Parliament conference held in conjunction with Malcom Harbour MEP (EPP-ED, UK), Vatanen said that the current policy is inspired by “an extremely expensive and inefficient utopian ideal”. He then got down to some systematic myth breaking regarding the European transport policy as set out in the Commission’s Transport White Paper of 2001:

  • Expensive projects such as the 15 billion euro Lyon-Turin tunnel under the Alps are not justified by cross-border traffic intensity. Existing road and rail system could easily carry three times as much freight;
  • In most cases, road cannot be replaced by other transport modes as it is the only way to deliver goods from door-to-door fast without need for transhipment. Road transport has made “just-in-time” deliveries possible, bringing cost savings for industry and trade. Ninety five per cent of passenger and freight transport on land is currently via road and can therefore not be replaced easily;
  • Public perception that cars contribute to pollution is outdated. Even with rising traffic volumes, toxic emissions due to road traffic are in sharp decline overall and air quality in Europe has improved spectacularly. CO2 emissions from cars and trucks in Europe contribute to only 2% of world greenhouse gas emissions; 
  • Cars are the social transport of our time, allowing citizens to pursue many different activities during the same day (including work) and therefore contribute to quality of life;
  • Subsidies for rail and public transport are a heavy drain on public finances and the European economy. By contrast, road users bring EU governments about 330 billions euro in taxes every year.

"For much too long received wisdom has been that roads are "baddies" and railroads are 'buddies'," said Vatanen. "I refuse to sign this absurdity. We must turn the tide of the European transport policy and let Europe free of its politically correct shackles. The dislike of the minority for cars must not blind us to act in a counterproductive way."

One of the key policies that he criticises is the Eurovignette proposal to charge trucks on EU motorways in order to finance alternatives to road and reduce congestion. The proposal has stirred controversy since it was tabled in July 2003, opposing member states at the periphery of main freight routes (Portugal, Estonia, Malta) to those where transit is high (Austria, France, Germany).

Earlier this month, the Community of European Railways (CER) reiterated calls to establish fair competition between different transport modes. CER urged the EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot to deliver on the White Paper's stated objective to shift transport away from roads and pointed to the Eurovignette proposal as a major tool to achieve this.

Speaking on 5 June, Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said that the EU should reconsider its approach to decouple transport growth from economic growth as set out in the 2001 White Paper on transport. "I think we have evolved on this question," Barrot told a debate organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC). "Mobility has become an essential factor for competitiveness, one should not restrain it when our growth levels are low."

The European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) recently wrote to Barrot to express concerns at his EPC June statement. In the letter, T&E Director Jos Dings said it would be "highly inappropriate" for the Commission to use the mid-term review of the White Paper to drop a policy guideline agreed by heads of states and governments at their Copenhagen summit of 2001. T&E has so far received no answer to its letter.

In 2001, the Commission presented a policy manifesto (White Paper) listing the measures it planned to take to overhaul the EU transport policy by 2010. The cornerstone of the document was to shift the balance between modes of transport away from roads and to better reflect pollution, congestion and human casualties in the costs of each mode of transport.

  • Before end 2005: Commission to present its mid-term review of the Transport White Paper

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