The new head of the European Commission’s transport department (DG MOVE) had harsh words yesterday (15 March) for draft rules to open up Europe’s “static” rail sector, which he said have been butchered in negotiations with the European Parliament and Council.
“The original proposal of the fourth railway package had much more ambition,” said Henrik Hololei, speaking at the annual dinner of the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA), which has pushed for more competition in the sector.
Hololei took over as Director-General of DG MOVE last October, nearly three years after the Commission proposed new rules to liberalise rail markets. Since then, the proposal has been caught in the firing line of member states and big rail companies that lobbied to water down the rules.
“Now of course in the negotiations many member states who were advised by some of their incumbent rail companies have also made adjustments to this proposal,” Hololei added.
When the executive proposed the so-called fourth railway package, Hololei was chief of staff to then-European Commissioner for Transport Siim Kallas. The rules are still pending and negotiations with weary MEPs and Council are expected to finish this spring.
But Hololei and other officials with knowledge of the discussions say the talks have wiped out several of the measures proposed by the Commission to help competing rail operators enter markets.
“The fourth railway package is a work in progress. I think it’s been like that for years,” Hololei said.
Hololei slammed EU countries for protecting their large national companies and crowding out competition.
“There is an unwillingness to change,” he said.
The executive’s January 2013 proposal called for to fully open passenger train markets by 2019. One point that sparked controversy in the executive’s draft is the demand to separate managers of rail infrastructure from train service operations.
Last autumn, member states attached a number of exceptions to the executive’s plan to require public tendering on most train routes in the EU.
“I know the hopes were higher and the ambition was higher but this is the compromise and this is how far the member states are willing to go,” Hololei said.