Wednesday

3rd Jun 2020

Transport no longer a 'nuisance' policy, Kallas says

  • Kallas: 'When this commission started, I had suddenly the impression that transport is only a nuisance' (Photo: European Commission)

EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas likes to point out that when the European Commission first started discussing its economic plan for this decade, there was no mention of the role transport policy could play.

In the often-changing sands of the EU executive's policy hierarchy, Kallas perceived the policy area to be on a downward trend when he formally took over the brief in early 2010.

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"When this commission started, I had suddenly the impression that transport is only a nuisance. That it was seen as only being about CO2 emissions and was not recognised as an important part of the economy at all."

Since then focus has shifted from treating transport only as a 'pollution-creating' sector that must be restricted to highlighting the role infrastructure policy can play in helping to revive the EU's economy.

It was one of the only sectors to see a money increase under proposals for the EU's next longterm budget (2014-2021) published at the end of June and a transport ideas paper setting out policy direction for the coming decades underlines the ideological shift. "Curbing mobility is not an option," says one of its key points.

Events have also helped. Iceland's ash-spuming volcano last year served to remind the general public what it means when planes cannot take off and governments of the futility of talking about national airspace.

But while the momentum behind the policy may have stepped up a gear, getting things done on the ground is a slow process. It needs longterm thinking but short term politics often get in the way.

Kallas' department will try and tackle this in two major initiatives this year.

Directly after the summer, it will publish proposals aimed at tidying up the process by which infrastructure projects are selected for EU co-funding.

Meanwhile, a new airport package will overhaul rules on airport landing and takeoff slots. The commission argues that if slots were allocated more efficiently, millions more passengers could use European airports each year.

But it is with railways that Kallas harbours the most ambitions. One EU official said that he is keen to see the same kind of liberalisation in the rail sector as in the air sector, which has resulted in an explosion of cheap air travel.

However it is also the most complicated area. Getting EU railways aligned with one another is a huge technical challenge. Different countries have different tracks, signalling systems and electricity supplies.

"All the complication of Europe is clearly seen here. So many footnotes, no many exemptions, so many combinations," said Kallas of the reworked first railway package, agreed by member states in June.

A fourth railway package is due to be published next year.

And the environment?

Kallas has been criticised for what some say is paying only superficial heed to the environment, with the sector being the only one where greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

His spring discussion paper says EU emissions from transport should be reduced by 60 percent by 2050 and emphasizes the polluter-pays principle.

Green groups say that the non-binding 60 percent target will mean the EU will not achieve its overall goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 95 percent by mid-century.

Christian Egenhofer, from the Centre for European Policy Studies, points out that under a "business as usual scenario" volumes in all transport modes is expected to increase substantially but particularly for road freight and passenger transport, with a corresponding rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

There are other gaps too, say environmentalists. Aviation is to be included from 2012 in the EU's pollution-reducing emissions trading scheme, but the marine sector, where emissions are expected to increase by over 65 percent between 2010 and 2050, is not.

Kallas takes a pragmatic line by way of response, arguing it would be "quite impossible" to set binding targets.

"Politically this target is binding. For people in politics, if something is written then the surveillance is there and it cannot be forgotten."

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