Green campaigners warn about transport policy U-turn

Five German car manufacturers are under pressure after the European Commission said it is investigating their involvement in a potential cartel.

The new EU transport policy risks undermining other commitments made on public health protection, energy and climate change, a group of environmental NGOs has warned.

The Green-10, a group of environmental NGOs, has sent a letter to Commission President José Manuel Barroso to express concern about the direction the Commission is apparently taking in the midterm review of its 2001 Transport Policy white paper.

“The basic premise of the new policy direction appears to be that mobility should be encouraged in order to create the conditions for growth and jobs,” the Green-10 writes. 

But the group claims that such a policy shift would run into direct conflict with several overarching policies such as the EU Sustainable Development Strategy and other policies in the fields of energy, climate change, public health, sustainable natural resource use and protection of biodiversity.

Road lobby groups, for their part, point to what they see as a "worrisome trend of declining investments in road infrastructure". According to the European Road Federation (ERF), a decrease in funding for road projects would "threaten our welfare model based on safe and efficient individual mobility." 

Rail industry stakeholders, also deplore the declining budgets for trans-European transport network (TEN-T) projects under the EU's 2007-2013 financial planning.

There are 30 TEN-T projects, 22 being major rail corridors such as the Lyon-Turin liaison under the Alps.

In the next budgetary period (2007-2013), the EU will have to make-do with a steep decrease in funding for cross-border transport projects. The Commission had proposed €20.35 billion for the projects, but EU heads of states had proposed reducing this figure to an estimated €6 billion in a December 2005 agreement.

Under a deal clawed by the European Parliament in April, the figure was slightly raised to €7.2 billion for both transport and energy infrastructure projects. The total cost of the 18 priority transport projects currently under way is estimated at €159 billion, according to the Parliament transport Committee.

A key objective of the 2001 White Paper on Transport was to shift freight transport away from roads and to rebalance it in favour of 'greener' transport modes such as rail, maritime shipping and inland waterways in order to reduce congestion. Another was to overhaul road taxation systems to reflect some of its drawbacks including human casualties and pollution.

Yet, road today remains the favorite 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. But the strains on the environment are also increasing. Commission figures point to 84% of CO2 emissions in the transport sector currently attributable to road transportation.

A revision of the Transport White Paper was due in April but has now been postponed to the second half of June.

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