Parliament and Council conflicts about liberalisation of railways

The conciliation procedure on the second railway package has just started. The most sensitive issue to be discussed will be the timetable for the liberalisation of railways for passenger transportation.

The conciliation procedure between the Parliament and Council on the second railway package opened on 27 January 2004.

The main bones of contention are:

  • the deadline for the liberalisation of railways for freight and passengers;
  • the setting-up of a European railway safety system;
  • the composition of the board of the European Railway Agency.

The most sensitive issue is the Parliament’s amendment calling for liberalisation of rail freight services and combined goods services by 1 January 2006 and of rail passenger services by 1 January 2008.

The Council refuses to incorporate provisions on the opening up of passenger transport by rail to competition. 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 union protests.

During the first conciliation meeting, the Commission presented a new compromise proposal indicating a 2010 deadline for the liberalisation of railways for passengers transportation. While the Parliament said it could accept such a proposal, the Council indicated that this issue would have to be dealt with at a later date when the Commission presents a third railway package.

The Commission intends to put forward a third railway package after the close of the current conciliation procedure. This package is expected to contain four proposals:

  • a draft directive introducing an EU license for train drivers;
  • a regulation on punctuality and compensation for late arrivals;
  • a directive on the liberalisation of passenger transport
  • a regulation on the rights and obligations of passengers in international transport.

 

Parliament rapporteur, Georg Jarzembowski (EPP-Germany), 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.

Harlem Désir (PES-France)and other socialist MEPs claimed that a liberalisation of railways for passengers could have a negative impact on security, quality of services and jobs in this sector.

CLECATrepresenting 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 four legislative proposals concerning the:

  • liberalisation of the freight market;
  • railway safety;
  • rail interoperability;
  • creation of a European Railway Agency.

 

  • The EP delegation will meet during the February plenary session in Strasbourg to discuss the next steps. A new meeting of the Conciliation Committee could be convened by 16 or 17 March in Brussels. Under the Treaty rules governing conciliations, the Conciliation Committee has eight weeks to reach agreement, i.e. until 24 March.

 

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