EU reconsiders transport policy

High oil prices are only one new aspect in the debate over Europe’s future transport policy. Current weak economic growth will feature high in the review of the 2001 White Paper on transport which has just started.

The Commission has launched broad consultations to update its long-term transport policy as defined in the 2001 White Paper.

Since 2001, the Commission has highlighted some “outstanding developments” that give good reason for an update of the policy. These are:

  • EU enlargement to ten new countries;
  • weak economic growth;
  • high oil prices;
  • safety concerns

In a recent speech, Commission Vice-President and EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the EU should reconsider its approach to decouple transport growth from economic growth as set out in the 2001 White Paper. "I think we have evolved on this question," Barrot told a debate organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC) on 5 June 2005. "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. 

At a seminar organised on 12 July 2005, Ari Vatanen MEP (EPP-ED, France) attacked the EU transport policy for being inspired by "an extremely expensive and inefficient utopian ideal" (EURACTIV, 12 July 2005). In most cases, Vatanen pointed out, 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.

"For much too long received wisdom has been that roads are "baddies" and railroads are 'buddies'," said Vatanen. "I refuse to sign this absurdity.

In an interview with EURACTIV in February 2005, the Parliament's transport committee vice-president Gilles Savary said the grand policy objectives of White Paper were all being contradicted. "The dynamic today is essentially road-based," he said. 

On the Eurovignette directive, which was intended to introduce a charge for heavy duty trucks on European motorways as a means to finance other modes of transport, Savary's comment was adamant. Eurovignette, he said is "first and foremost, a road charging tool designed to finance road transport. That is its essential philosophy. And only very incidentally is it a tool to finance alternative modes of transport in border or sensitive regions". If voted as it is, he said, Europe's transport policy would suffer "a great loss of credibility". 

The Commission's 2001 White Paper on Transport set out the general objectives for the EU's transport policy until year 2010. Its main objectives are:

  • to achieve a better balance between road and other modes of transport and create conditions for a 'modal shift', away from road; 
  • to 'decouple' transport growth from rising economic activity;
  • to ensure the costs of different transports reflect their 'external costs'; (including environmental damage, congestion, human casualties, etc.);
  • to reduce casualties, particularly on roads

Some 60 measures were defined among which controversial plans to harmonise fuel taxation for trucks and a series of ambitious infrastructure projects, which for the most part, never saw the day of light due to lack of financing. 

  • 31 December 2005: Commission consultation draws to an end

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