29th Sep 2023

Ministers greenlight liberalisation of cross-border railways

EU transport ministers have hammered out a proposal to boost competition in cross-border rail services, despite protests of rail unions against the move.

Under the rules agreed on Monday (5 December), member states should prepare the ground for liberalisation of the sector in 2010.

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The decision provides for national railway companies to offer their services in another member state, carrying passengers from one station to another in that same foreign country.

France, Belgium and Hungary initially opposed the move, due to their huge state subsidies to national services, which some fear could be threatened by the international competition, but only Budapest eventually voted against the proposal.

British transport secretary Alistair Darling argued the EU rules would secure that present national arrangements concerning the public obligations to provide local services would not be "unduly disrupted."

"We will strike the right balance between boosting competition in railway transport and the need to preserve public services," commented the EU transport commissioner Jacques Barrot.

But rail service workers gathered in Brussels during the ministers' meeting argued the opposite.

"Competition between economically unequal companies will result in threats to the existence of the railways," stated the European Transport Workers Federation.

The group argues the decision will negatively affect mainly the new member states and geographically small countries, as they will find that the continued existence of their railway company will come under serious threat.

On top of this, the unions are concerned the move could endanger the rail workers' lobby position in face of their national governments, which they fear could result in worse social conditions, and compromises on quality and safety of the services.

The EU ministers on Monday also adopted a proposal to boost international rail passengers' rights, agreeing to secure cash refund for delays or cancellations of travellers' journey.

Finally, they gave a green light to some minimum common rules for train drivers across Europe.

The European Parliement had earlier adopted a more ambitious version of most proposals included in the so called "Third Railway package".

Parliament and member states will have to find a compromise in the coming months.

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