Divisive rail rules held up by UK, Germany, France and Greece

New EU rules will open up rail markets to newer competing companies, but some member states are still stalling. [Smabs Sputzer/Flickr]

EU member states are still squabbling over draft rules that will open up railway markets to competition, even after negotiators struck a deal last week on the long debated file.

Several members of the bloc defied what was supposed to be a final agreement during a meeting yesterday (27 April).

Sources close to the file say the UK, Germany, France and Greece are holding up the deal because they want more support to build high-speed rail lines.

The Dutch EU Council presidency closed an agreement with the European Parliament and Commission one week ago (20 April), but some EU countries are still unconvinced.

“The big countries have to show that they have a last word to say in these discussions,” Luxembourg’s Infrastructure Minister François Bausch said on Wednesday at a Brussels conference.

The new rules will force member states to open up domestic passenger rail travel to newer competing companies.

Some major national train operators tried to dilute the draft legislation during its three-year run through negotiations. One contentious measure will force them to separate rail operators from managers of track infrastructure, which the European Commission pushed to prevent conflicts of interest that make it tough for new companies to break into the rail market.

Officials from member states are meeting again this morning to talk over the sensitive parts of the new railway rules. Less controversial, technical legislation that is part of the file was separated last year so it could be passed sooner.

The part of the bill that has been an easier sell to member states will give the France-based European Railway Agency more power to approve trains for safety and cross-border trips. It will face a final vote in today’s plenary session in Parliament.

“We worked so hard on this dossier for four years and I don’t think there will be a surprise tomorrow,” German S&D MEP Ismail Ertug (SPD) said yesterday.

Commission slams member states for watering down rail rules

The new head of the European Commission’s transport section (DG MOVE) had harsh words yesterday (15 March) for new rules to open up Europe’s “static” rail sector, which he said have been butchered in negotiations with the European Parliament and Council.

Now, the Commission is putting pressure on member states to get behind the more controversial parts of the legislation that will force national rail companies to make room for competitors.

“I know some of the stakeholders don’t like to hear it too much, in this breakup of monopolies, established railway companies will be obliged to break up and become more competitive,” EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said.

Bulc said the new rules could help unprofitable rail companies in Europe to regain ground lost to long distance buses, budget airlines and carsharing.

“Many times I hear that customers are disappearing but that the services are disappearing as well. Let’s see if with this market opening we can create innovative services so that customers can be brought back,” she said.

The final negotiations on the bill come on the heels of the European Commission’s recent inquiries into national rail operators.

Over the last few months the EU executive’s antitrust authorities have sharpened their gaze on major operators in some EU countries.

A top official at the Czech Transport Ministry told euractiv.com that European Commission authorities raided the offices of Czech national rail company České dráhy on 26 April. Authorities allegedly targeted information about České dráhy’s ticket pricing.

A Commission spokesman told EURACTIV he could not comment on the raids. A spokesman for the Czech competition authority also declined to comment.

Last December, the executive raided the offices of Austrian operator ÖBB, allegedly to collect information about how the company uses public money and prices services.

EU ministers agree on injecting competition into domestic rail service

European railway companies will be allowed to offer domestic rail services in other countries from 2020 under new proposals agreed on Thursday(8 October) by European Union ministers.

The European Commission’s recast of the first railway package in 2001 was adopted in 2012. It was designed to address the historic challenges to creating a consolidated railway market, which in the

The EU executive considers the rail sector as having too little competition, poor regulatory oversight and inadequate public and private investment.

The 2012 recast consolidates the 20012004 and 2007 legislation and provides for strengthening regulatory oversight and performance of infrastructure operators. It also seeks to improve transparency in rail contracts and operations.

The Commission's 2013 proposal called for a separation of rail infrastructure managers and service operators, a full separation of passenger rail markets by 2019 and public tendering for most rail routes.

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