On December 2nd 2014, the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee held an exchange of views with Transport Commissioner, Violeta Bulc. A focus of the discussion was the Juncker 300 billion euro investment plan and how this will contribute to the transport sector, as well as how it complements the CEF. Other issues raised included social dumping, road charging (especially the German maut), green transport, the 4th Railway Package, the Ports package and aviation, especially in terms of competition.
Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc emphasised her full support to Juncker’s “315 billion euro” plan and its benefits for the transport sector. She highlighted the three core pillars of this plan: the creation of a new European fund for strategic investments, the establishment of a credible project pipeline with an assistance programme, and a roadmap to improve the regulatory investment environment. On the latter, she noted that private investors will not engage if there is not a predictable environment.
She then explained that the investment needs in transport are huge with the 9 TEN-T corridors needing more than 75 billion euros every year. Investment needs are particularly high for cleaner modes of transport – rail and inland waterways – and the bottlenecks and missing links must be solved. She also mentioned the necessary infrastructure, for example fast electric charging points and the deployment of LNG infrastructure in ports must be rolled out at the European level. Secondly, there are investment needs in urban mobility which causes most emissions and traffic. Thirdly, important investment is needed to adapt the European transport system to the needs of the 21st century and here ITS needs to be deployed to make the best use of existing and future infrastructure.
Moreover, this fund for strategic investment will offer new opportunities to finance the above needs and will complement existing instruments such as the CEF and Cohesion Funds. There is a risk bearing capacity of 21 billion euros and so the new instrument can target more risky projects than those financed until now by the EIB and those investments that could not access EU grants. The new instrument can generate better leverage with a ratio of up to 15 times. This will cover 10% of the CEF budget and there is no change to the priorities of TEN-T and CEF. TEN-T priority projects will be eligible to grants from both the CEF and/or the new fund and this will allow Member States to exclude projects from their national debts.
She also highlighted three main criteria for the projects (which she was more concerned about than the money): projects with clear EU added value, projects which are economically viable and have high socio-economic returns (jobs), and projects which are mature enough and can start within the next 3 years. She added that this is about speeding up the process and clearing the pipeline of projects and there is an estimated 100 billion euros of investment by the Commission. The joint EIB-Commission taskforce created a list of projects under these three criteria, a large portion of which are transport infrastructure. She then referred to the Christophersen report about transport projects along the TEN-T corridors. She reiterated that the investment plan is a real opportunity but the EU needs to cut red tape and ensure that new regulation is simple and clear and this is why she is committed to the REFIT initiative.
She then highlighted that Juncker referred to three pending transport initiatives during his presentation last week: the 4th Railway Package, Single European Sky and blue belt, as having primary importance to make the transport sector attractive for investors. She said that the Commission needs help to push the Council to act and open negotiations to complete the legislative process by next summer for SES II+. She added that the right regulatory environment for investment is the responsibility of both EU institutions and Member States.
She then commented briefly on the German maut (road toll) and emphasised that Member States’ draft laws re not notified to the Commission and the Commission will only take a formal position on the maut’s compatibility with EU treaties once it is adopted by the German parliament. She reiterated that she supports the user pays principle, and the Commission will remain vigilant that this needs to be done in a manner which is respectful of the EU treaties including non-discrimination. The Commission services are working with German authorities.
She is further committed to work in the spirit of mutual understanding. On road safety offences, the Commission has done what it can for now. The Commission also took a fresh look at the file on social legislation and road transport, but the main challenge here is implementation and enforcement. She noted that the Parliament rejected the proposal on better enforcement of offences and while this is a partial solution, it is at least in the right direction but she respected the Committee’s vote and will continue work on this.
She finally wanted to contribute to the priorities set out in Juncker’s policy guidelines and said that transport is a growth enabler, is essential to connect regions and will contribute to an energy efficient and low carbon economy. She believed in constantly keeping customers in mind, as well as in the role of both technical and non-technical innovation. This is why the smart cities project is high on her agenda. Finally, she said that she will continue to work with transport stakeholders, so they can co-create a dynamic and proactive European transport system.
Peter Lundgren was particularly concerned about cabotage. In Sweden, drivers have 7 working days as a limit but large scale transporters take shipments to Denmark and back to Sweden and so circumvent inland transport. Drivers are earning 500 euros a month and he called this modern slavery. Thus he believed the cabotage law is not working, and something must be done. He also mentioned fake driver licences: one pays 10,000 euros for a licence but can buy one for 400 on the internet. However, they are untrained and this is not a proper licence, so is there something to improve this?