Transport policy looks set for U-turn

Despite the 2001 Transport White Paper’s aim to curb demand for road transport, only green groups appear to believe that this is still a worthy aim.

  • Implementation at national level
  • Modal shift or co-modality? A choice must be made between reducing the use of road transport or optimising it via improved logistics. 
  • Enlargement: The specific challenges faced by the EU’s ten newest members must be taken into account. 
  • Pricing: External costs must be factored into the price of transport. This will both favour the use of environmentally friendly modes of transport and contribute to financing new and better infrastructure which cannot be built with the EU’s limited funds. 
  • Fostering innovation and intelligent transport systems

Director-General of the International Automobile Federation’s European Bureau Wil Botman underlined that mobility was not just about transporting goods, but also citizens. Indeed, “85% of citizens’ movements are done by road, against just 50% for goods”, he said, questioning whether the mid-term review’s new focus on co-modality will be useful to address citizens’ mobility problems. He also stressed the need to take road safety into account at all levels of the EU’s transport policy. 

ACEA Director of Transport Policy Fuensanta Martinez-Sans said that by getting rid of the concepts of modal shift and decoupling, the EU had taken a step in the right direction towards rebalancing its transport policy and making it more realistic. She urged the EU to increase investments in roads rather than in rail and other infrastructure because most traffic increases between now and 2020 will be on the roads. 

Hubert Linssen, general delegate of the International Road Union’s permanent delegation to the EU, welcomed the Commission’s renewed focus on roads, saying that co-modality and logistics will do a lot to make transport more efficient. But he criticised the way that member states were implementing smart-charging policies. “We are not against paying our way,” he stressed, but with some countries enforcing both peak-hour and night-time bans for trucks, “truck-drivers have only six hours left to serve the whole European economy”. He urged the Commission to reintroduce a proposal for a harmonised traffic-ban regulation and stressed that it was unfair that smart charging be applied only to trucks which represent just 15% of traffic. 

The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), which was not present among the speakers, nevertheless believes that a modal shift from road to rail, among others by ensuring that the prices reflect the real economic, social and environmental costs of products and services is crucial for a "competitive, secure, safe, and environmentally friendly mobility".

NGO Transport and Environment Director Jos Dings reminded the Commission that there was “more to a transport policy than just making the associated industries happy” and that it must also contribute to citizens’ well-being in general. He also reminded the Commission that its new Communication strayed away from principles which had not only been outlined in its original transport policy but which are also included in its revised “Strategy for the Sustainable Development of Europe” - reducing pollution and noise levels and decoupling transport and economic growth. He stressed that some of Europe’s most competitive economies, Sweden and the UK, had been successful in decoupling and urged the Commission to introduce effective policies to create a Europe less dependent both on energy and transport. 

International Association of Public Transport (UITP) Director Brigitte Ollier stressed the need for a strong focus on cities, which are home to 80% of Europe’s population and where pollution and congestion problems are at their worst due to the limited space. 

Kerstin Jorna, deputy head of cabinet to Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot, replied: “There is an enormous expectation gap between what we want and what we can do; and that gap is called subsidiarity.” Nevertheless, she said the Commission would launch a debate on this issue in a Green Paper in 2007 because it believes it is an important issue. 

Dr. Hanns Glatz, Delegate of the Board of Management, Daimler-Chrysler, pointed out that taxes were a useful instrument, but that so far their use had been restricted to encouraging pollution reduction. He said: “Road safety is just as important as pollution” and suggested that taxes could be introduced to encourage the production and consumption of safer vehicles. 

On 22 June 2006 the Commission published the Communication, "Keep Europe Moving - Sustainable mobility for our continent", which is a mid-term review of the Commission’s 2001 White Paper on transport policy. 

The review highlights that the context defining Europe’s transport policy has changed over the past five years and that the EU needs new tools to face these challenges: 

  • Enlargement: Europe’s transport network is now continental. 
  • Globalisation is challenging Europe’s competitiveness and economic growth. 
  • Global warming and energy shortages urgently need to be tackled. 
  • Security issues are key following terrorist attacks targeting transport systems. 

The review also makes clear that certain policy options defined in the 2001 White Paper - such as the modal shift from road transport to other modes and decoupling of economic and transport growth - have not met the expected levels of success and should be revised. 

In a debate organised by the Automobile and Society Forum on 10 October 2006, Hungarian MEP Etelka Barsi-Pataky (EPP-ED), who will steer the debate on the mid-term review through Parliament, outlined what she viewed as the main issues for debate. 

  • 12 October 2006: EU Transport Ministers will start the debate on the Commission’s revised White Paper
  • 21 November 2006: Parliament will open discussions on the review
  • 7 March 2007: Vote expected in the EP’s Transport Committee. 

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