Commission attempts to balance transport and environmental needs

Five German car manufacturers are under pressure after the European Commission said it is investigating their involvement in a potential cartel.

The Commission’s updated Europe’s transport policy seeks to improve citizens’ mobility and boost competitiveness, while keeping down energy consumption and reducing the negative impacts on the environment.

• Decoupling transport growth from its negative effects: While the 2001 White Paper cited “breaking the link between economic growth and transport growth” as its main objective, 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’: The priority of the initial paper was to shift 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. Although the Commission maintains that this remains a priority, the focus appears to be shifting towards ‘co-modality’, or the optimised use of all modes of transport. Co-modality can be achieved by facilitating the passage from one transport mode to another via the harmonisation of standards between road, sea, rail and river 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: Transport is responsible for 71% of oil consumption and for 26% of CO2 emissions. In order to reduce Europe’s dependency on oil and make transport more sustainable, the commission will present a strategic technology plan for energy use in transport in 2007 and will launch a programme on ‘green-powered vehicles’ in 2009.

• 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.

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) welcomed 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) said 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).

In 2001, the Commission adopted a White Paper  on transport policy in order to face the challenges created by rapidly increasing freight and passenger transport: 

• road congestion; 
• environmental pressures; 
• safety and quality of life problems.  

These objectives are still relevant but, 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 has conducted a review of the original White paper, after consulting a wide range of stakeholders, creating a number of new tools to achieve its objective of sustainable transport.

On 22 June the Commisison published the Communication, "Keep Europe Moving - Sustainable mobility for our continent", which is a mid-term review of the Commission’s 2001 White Paper.

• Publication of Green Paper on Urban Transport (2007) 
• A first European road safety day (2007); promotion of road safety through vehicle design and technology, infrastructure and drive behaviour 
• Development of a freight transport logistics strategy, as well as the launch of a broad debate on possible preparation of an EU action plan for 2007 
• Smart charging (basis for methodology by 2008) 
• Major programme to bring intelligent road transport systems to market (2008)
• Energy and transport: strategic technology plan for energy in 2007 and green propulsion programme for 2009 

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