MEPs and Member States have struck a conciliation agreement to open the freight market to competition by 2007. The liberalisation is designed to help the railways increase their market share of freight transport.
Under the conciliation agreement reached on 16 March 2004, the international freight market will be fully opened to competition by January 2006, and for all domestic freight services across the EU (cabotage) in 2007. The package will allow private companies to compete to carry rail freight and to increase their market share against the former national monopolies that dominate the sector in most European nations. The Parliament had been pressing for a complete liberalisation from 2006, while Member States wanted to wait until 2008.
Irish Transport Minister Seamus Brennan said the agreement was "critically important for the revitalisation of the rail freight market in Europe". Talking to reporters, Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said that liberalisation will help improve the quality of service provided by rail operators and thus encourage freight companies to switch to trains from trucks, which are clogging highways and increasing pollution.
The Council settled on the Parliament's requirement to mention a 2010 deadline for the liberalisation of railways in a recital. Earlier this month, the Commission put forward proposals in a "third railway package", which include freeing up international passenger train services in Europe in 2010. Both institutions agreed to examine them quickly (see
The Community of European Railways (CER) described the agreement as "very positive for the further development of the European railways". It welcomed that a definite timetable for the liberalisation of the rail freight market had been fixed for 2007 and that a 2010 time horizon had been set for international passenger traffic.
For the legislative package to enter into force, the agreement must now be endorsed by the Parliament (majority of votes cast) and the Council (qualified majority voting procedure).