MEPs want liberalisation of railway passenger services by 2008

On 23 October, MEPs voted to open up competition on Europe’s railways for freight and passenger traffic.

MEPs voted to grant companies free access to rail networks in rail freight and combined transport goods services in all EU countries by 1 January 2006 at the latest. For passenger services, the Parliament voted for a 1 January 2008 deadline for both national and international services.

This vote is expected to meet with strong resistance from the Council which refused to incorporate the opening up of passengers’ transport by rail to competition in its common position adopted in June 2003. For most national governments, 2008 is too early to consider opening up national monopolies for passenger traffic. France, Luxembourg and Belgium in particular are reluctant to move too fast with the liberalisation, seeking to protect state railroad companies to avoid job losses and trade union protests.


Georg Jarzembowski (EPP-DE), Parliament's rapporteur, stresses the need for efficient passenger traffic to compete with car and air transport. He has already appealed to the European Council to abandon their refusal to open up the tracks to competition.

Harlem Désir (PES-FR)and other socialist MEPs called on MEPs not to accept the further liberalisation of rail. They claimed that such a liberalisation could have a negative impact on security, quality of services and jobs in this sector.

Theo Bouwman(Greens/EFA-NL), President of the Social Affairs Committee in the European Parliament,said: "We need a thorough debate on the liberalisation of passenger services in the context of the up-coming debate on services of public interest and again when the Commission presents its new package on rail passengers. And we have to learn from the lessons of liberalisation in the UK and the Netherlands, which demonstrated that it is wise to proceed cautiously with privatisation. Therefore we support the Council in its position against an accelerated liberalisation of the European freight services, which means that cabotage will be allowed only from 2008 on."

CLECAT(representing the European freight forwarding sector) stresses that liberalisation of international rail freight markets can only be fully efficient if accompanied by more competition on domestic markets in order to attract the necessary private funds.


The Second Railway Package consists of 5 legislative proposals:

  • Amendments to complete liberalisation of the freight market;
  • The Railway Safety Directive;
  • Amendments to the Interoperability Directives, progressively extending scope to the whole network;
  • Proposal for a Regulation establishing a European Railway Agency;
  • Proposal for Community accession to the Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail (COTIF):

During the first reading, Parliament and Council differed on the deadlines for the liberalisation of national freight services and passenger services. To see the deadlines proposed by the different institutions, see

EURACTIV 31 March 2003.


  • The Railway package is likely to be on the agenda during the forthcoming Transport Council;
  • As the Parliament and the Council disagree over the deadlines and scope of liberalisation, Rapporteur Georg Jarzembowski (EPP-ED, Germany) is proposing that the conciliation procedure starts as soon as possible to enable the two institutions to reach agreement before the end of the parliamentary term in May 2004.


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