EU transport policy: has it delivered?

Experts at an evening debate organised by Friends of Europe discussed whether EU transport policy has really improved the transport sector.

The upcoming mid-term review of the 2001 White Paper on Transport raises questions as to how successful the EU has been in improving the situation of the transport sector. 

Road today remains the favourite and most efficient means of transport with a further increase in volume expected in the future. According to the Commission, a 50% increase in freight transport can be expected for 2010. 

Yet, the costs to the environment are also expected to grow. The Commission indicates that road transport already accounts for 84% of CO2 emissions attributable to transport.

Zoltan Kazatsay, Deputy Director General for Energy & Transport at the European Commission, said maintaining and building transport infrastructure is a very costly exercise. Covering the entire network would take decades, he pointed out. "The Commission cannot plan the budget with a one-sided approach," he said. Certainly, more infrastructure is needed, but who is going to pay for it, Kazatsay asked?

Allocating more freight transport on the railway system "would not be a waste of money" and would to some extent be feasible, according to Mr. Kazatsay. However, he foresees possible contradictory interests and difficult discussions between the member states on this topic. He suggests harmonising European railway systems as a possible step to increase the share of railway freight in Europe. 

Concerning road transport, Mr. Kazatsay said biofuels were certainly one option but not the final one. "Less consumption and alternative fuels are also needed," he said. 

Rune Landin, Vice President, Transport Policy, AB Volvo, said it would be preferable to have a dedicated road system. According to Mr. Landin, the road infrastructure needs to be improved in order to reduce congestion and fuel consumption. On pollution aspects, Landin said air quality standards have already improved, but that the issue of CO2 emissions, however, still called for a long term solution. 

Jos Dings, Director of the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E), called for more transparency on how Commission transport funds are being spent. Taxpayers, he said, should be informed on what projects their money is going to. He pointed out that it is difficult to put proposed transport pricing systems such as the 'Eurovignette' proposal to charge heavy trucks on roads into practice. As investment in transport is falling, he said, it will be difficult to make the EU more 'transport efficient'. 

In 2001, the Commission presented a White Paper on transport with the aim of improving European transport systems by 2010. The underlying aim of the White Paper was to reduce congestion on roads caused mainly by increasing freight and to transfer part of it to more environmentally-friendly means of transport such as maritime routes and railways. The forthcoming mid-term review will look at how far the targets in the White Paper have been met and whether new polices should be defined.

Zoltan Kazatsay (Deputy Director General for Energy & Transport, Commission), Jos Dings (Director, T&E) and Rune Landin (Vice President, Transport Policy, AB Volvo) debated the achievements of the EU transport policy since 2001 at a Café Crossfire evening. The debate was organised by Brussels think-tank Friends of Europe. 

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