22nd Mar 2023

Demo urges EU Commission to stop privatising transport

  • 'No to Privatisation' shouted demonstrators (Photo: David Montoro)
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Rail workers, MEPs, and trade unions rallied on Tuesday (28 February) in Brussels to stop the EU Commission's attempt to further privatise public transport across the EU.

"No to Privatisation" was the most-common shout during the afternoon under the banners of around 10 national trade unions gathered in front of the European Parliament to demand "respect for EU democracy" and "affordable public services" for all citizens.

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  • MEPs and transport workers' representatives on Tuesday in front of the parliament (Photo: Paula Soler)

The issue dates back to 2016. Since then, member states have been allowed to award rail and road service contracts to their own operators or through competitive tendering. This was established by the commission in the so-called public service obligation guidelines in order to open up the rail market to competition.

Seven years after the launch, as part of the fourth railway package, the commission has come up with a new draft to make direct awards the exception and tendering the rule, according to representatives of the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF), who have had access to this draft, explained to EUobserver.

The concern over the guidelines framing the concession of these public services is that they are interpretative and usually accompany EU laws, so the executive is not obliged to consult the co-legislators in order to adopt them.

In other words, the commission intends to update the rules without consulting parliament or the European Council. Karima Delli, chair of the parliament's transport committee, also disagreed on this. "You cannot make laws without social dialogue", she said at the demonstration.

In effect, these new guidelines would mean poorer working conditions, fewer staff, more expensive tickets for consumers and a path towards privatisation of a basic public service, according to workers' representatives from the 10 European countries gathered.

The union from the Flemish region of Belgium illustrated this with the situation their bus drivers will face next year: €3.60 less per hour in wages with next year's award. "If that means liberalisation, we say no to it," stated their representative.

For Maria Rathgeb, international secretary at the Austrian trade union VIDA, what is needed is more clarity. "They [the commission] should give more clearance [be more clear] that lead to more legal certainties," she told EUobserver.

Currently, she explains, around 80 percent of public transport service contracts are awarded directly. "This public service must be maintained, as it also means good jobs, good social standards and certainty for workers," Rathgeb adds.

"What we need is more investment into public transport, not more privatisation," commented S&D MEP Andreas Schieder on the possibility of these guidelines removing direct awards or restricting them to exceptional circumstances.

On Thursday (2 March ), following several requests from trade unions and MEPs, the commission will meet with parliament's transport committee to officially present the above draft guidelines and "provide an explanation" to their counterparts.


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