Opposition to EU plan for petrol-car-free cities

29.03.11 @ 09:17

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - European cities should be free from petrol-fueled cars by 2050, the European Commission has said in a transport strategy document.

  • The Rue de la Loi in the heart of Brussels' EU district (Photo: EUobserver.com)

The much-awaited white paper, published on Monday (28 March), also calls for €1.5 billion in infrastructure investments to create a 'Single European Transport Area' over the next two decades, together with a raft of pro-green measures to ensure the EU cuts its transport emissions by 60 percent by 2050.

The UK government has been quick to sound the alarm, insisting that the commission should keep its nose out of individual cities' transport choices, however.

"We will not be banning cars from city centres any more than we will be having rectangular bananas," said UK transport minister Norman Baker, invoking a classic tenet of British euroscepticism on EU over-regulation.

Other reactions from transport and environmental groups were mixed.

Ivan Hodac, secretary general of the automobile industry's trade association (ACEA), said it is a mistake to call for road freight transport in excess of 300km to be shifted to rail or waterborne transport.

For their part, campaign group Transport & Environment were critical of the commission's decision to delay the vast majority of transport emission cuts until after 2030.

"The Commission plans to cut emissions by just 1 percent a year until 2030, and then 5 percent a year after that," said the group's director, Jos Dings. "Putting off action and relying on miraculous technological breakthroughs in twenty years is a completely flawed strategy."

The European Parliament's Green group were also unhappy on this point. "The commission has realised the need to change the direction of transport policy in Europe but it is keeping the handbrake on," MEP Michael Cramer said.

Despite the hostility, the commission insists that urban, inter-city and long-distance transport will need to change in the 27-member Union, while underlining that a reduction in emissions does not mean less travel for EU citizens.

"We can break the transport system's dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility," EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas told journalists on Monday.

For intercity travel, the commission says 50 percent of all medium-distance passenger and freight transport should shift off the roads and onto rail and waterborne transport by 2050.

Air and maritime transport will continue to dominate for long-distance travel and intercontinental freight transportation, but new engines, fuels and traffic management systems will be needed to increase efficiency and reduce emissions, says the white paper.

To ensure funds are available to complete Europe's fragmented transport grid, the commission supports a greater application of the 'user pays' principle in the future, meaning a potential rise in car taxes and bus/rail ticket prices.

Kallas said the commission would now come forward with various legislative proposals to implement the 2050 transport strategy.