Sustainable mobility in Europe: Implications for the transport sector

10 June 2005

Jacques Barrot, European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for Transport, addressed an EPC Policy Dialogue on “Sustainable Mobility in Europe: Implications for the transport sector.” EPC Chief Executive, Hans Martens, introduced the panel and outlined the EPC’s ’12 policy prescriptions for a European sustainable mobility policy,’ published by the EPC Task Force on Transport. The panel discussion featured Herbert Lust, Director, European Union and NATO for the Boeing Company, Paul Hughes, Senior Research Executive at Scottish Enterprise, Stefan Lorentzson, Group Vice President for the EU representation of the Volvo Group and Jos Dings, Director of the European Federation for Transport and Environment. EPC Policy Advisor, Pavel Telička chaired the meeting. A question and answer session followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings, and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.


 Mobility was a right, but also came at a cost, the Commissioner warned. This cost factor had to be controlled. The current debate in the transport sector centred on the link between transport growth and economic growth: could this link be severed to provide sustainable and affordable mobility in Europe? Transport, both private and commercial, participants agreed, was a central element of EU policy and could be improved and enhanced by better coordination and cooperation between EU governments. The Commission’s forthcoming White Paper on the subject would be a milestone, the Commissioner promised.

 Event Report

 EPC Chief Executive Hans Martens set out the dozen prescriptions for a sustainable mobility policy contained in EPC Working Paper 16 published by the EPC Task Force on Transport (this paper can be downloaded by clicking on this link). Economic growth was simply not possible without growth in transport, he said, and that required a bigger financial commitment to Transeuropean Networks(TENs), robust checks and balances on the efficacy of better regulation in the transport sector, the exchange of best practice and the opening up of better road, sea, rail and air links, cooperating to ensure a smooth working and interoperability of different transport modes.

 All this and more was set out in the paper by the EPC Task Force on Transport and Mr Martens highlighted that the key was to deal with transport, not just in Europe but globally, by treating it as part of a system embracing environmental, social and energy policies. In short, politicians had to take a  broad view when defining transport policy.

 Commissioner Jacques Barrot agreed that strategic transport decisions had to be taken now, or the risks would be sizeable. Congestion was by far the biggest mobility problem today and would continue to plague Europe in the future. There were 45,000 road deaths every year, CO2 emissions were too high, and there was now a real need to improve transport infrastructure across Europe. Above all, the cost of the transport sector alone was absorbing 1% of combined EU national wealth.

 The key question was whether to “decouple” transport growth and economic growth, debunking the notion that the two inevitably expanded in parallel.

 Commissioner Barrot said that this idea had amazed him when he took office last year: he could not envisage how this perceived direct link could be broken. Now a forthcoming Commission White Paper would assess the policy mix in which sustainable mobility was built on a balance between transport needs, the environment, and the economy: “If we don’t get the mixture right, we will be incapable of achieving sustainable mobility, which is a right for citizens and an absolute necessity for the economy.

 The essential areas the Commission was focusing on in the White Paper were:

 Ø       Investment in TENs: quadrupling the budget to 20 billion euros by 2013, although it was too early to confirm exactly how much could be achieved the new Financial Perspectives.

Ø       A Council agreement on Euro-vignettes, an important element in TENS financing.

Ø       The switch from road to rail for freight transport. Rail was an obvious alternative to road freight transport, but the rail sector remained fragmented. Europe was still 25 national rail networks, and a homogeneous rail system was vital, with one regulatory system and one set of rules – a rail corridor across Europe without which there could be no real alternative to road transport.

Ø       Integrate maritime transport. This required cross-border cooperation too, with ports around Europe adapted to “the creation of an auto route of the sea.” A huge disparity in maritime regulations, and particularly rules on river navigation was making it difficult to create effective alternatives to roads. The ideal situation would be to agree a form of transport charging balanced across the different transport modes.

Ø       A kerosene tax for aircraft fuel. This was the way forward, combined with better air traffic control management to avoid long, fuel-guzzling delays in the air before landing.

Ø       The “clean” car. The Commission was working with car manufacturers to establish a norm to stimulate a market in more environmentally-friendly cars.

Ø       “Durable” transport. The aim here is the protection of the environment and improved security in all transport sectors, not forgetting better access to transport for the elderly and disabled.

 Overall, the Commission’s constant objective was the implementation of a coordinated transport policy fostering economic growth while providing “high-quality” benefits for all users. He said Europeans deserved and needed fluid transport systems. But even then, there came a point when the impact of the private car on society had to be tackled: “I agree with individual freedom but we have to think of collective freedom. I think citizens understand that.”

 Achieving the goal of a sustainable transport network was the collective responsibility of the European Commission, the Member States and the citizens who used it, said Commissioner Barrot.

 Panel Discussion

 Paul Hughes, Senior Research Executive of Scottish Enterprise, the leading economic development agency for Scotland, said the key questions to be tackled in striving for sustainable transport development were the measurable impact on the economy, the implications for the environment and the effect on daily living. It was very difficult for law-makers to balance this “three-legged stool” of economy, environment and society impact because of the problems of decoupling economic growth and transport growth. But he warned that claiming that “decoupling” was a good thing was short-sighted and ignored the reality of how the link between transport and economic growth could be severed.

 Stefan Lorentzson, Group Vice President, Volvo Group Representation agreed that trying to decouple the two was “risky business.” The link between transport and economic welfare was clear: an efficient transport system was a pre-requisite for sustainable growth. Policymakers had to take full advantage of the different strengths of various transport modes, and develop “best practice.” He advised: “Don’t talk about modal shift – just create a transport policy covering all modes.”

 Jos Dings, Director of the European Federation for Transport and Environment pointed out that the most competitive countries were those with less intensive transport systems. Transport was like energy - society could not live without it. But transport was a cost to society as well as a commodity and the Federation was convinced that “decoupling” transport growth and economic growth was realistic.

 The rebalancing of transport modes had become “an article of faith,” but the TENs project needed thorough impact assessment, and although Euro-vignettes were a real step forward, expectations were too high: “charging is a tool to manage transport, not to finance it.”

 Herbert Lust, The Boeing Company’s Director for the EU and NATO, said 40% of world trade was transported by air and while air transport had to reduce its environmental impact, the fuel burden of the newest aircraft was as good as European trains and better than cars. Aircraft fuel consumption had fallen by 70% since the 1950s and aircraft noise had decreased by a similar proportion. The air transport sector was now a responsible industry with much to offer a future integrated transport system.