16 November 2006

Matthias Ruete, European Commission Director-General for Energy and Transport (Tren), said he wanted to “dispel one big misunderstanding” about the ‘mid-term review’ of the White Paper on European transport policy.

“This paper is not a break with the past,” he insisted, but rather updates transport policies drawn up as early as 1992. Current policies must provide “sustainable mobility for our continent”, he said, so the review focuses on a “triangle” of transport issues, encapsulated by three cities which ‘symbolise’ these issues: Lisbon for competition, Kyoto for the environment, and New York (post 9/11) for security and safety.

Changing perspectives for transport policy

While continuing with the work which has been done to date, the current situation differs from 2001 in three ways. First, Europe has not become as economically competitive as foreseen in the “hay days of Lisbon”, and transport must play a role in rectifying this situation. Secondly, transport policy concentrated in the past on the ‘blue banana’ (i.e. Western) Europe. Since then, Europe has become “a continent reunited”, so its transport policy needs a more “continental” dimension. Lastly, concerns about conserving energy now go beyond focusing solely on protecting the environment.

Mr Ruete said the most essential part of the White Paper was its ‘Workbook’, which outlines the Commission’s main plans for future action.

This sees Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) as an important element in future policy, and a Directorate for Intelligent Transport Systems has therefore been created to examine how this can help integrate Europe’s transport systems. Mr Ruete pointed to several successful developments in this field: the Galileo project, Integrated Traffic Management Systems (ITMS) and the SESAR project for air traffic management.

He also emphasised that security was now an important aspect of transport policy. (Ironically, the previous transport paper was published on 9 September 2001, just two days before the attack on the Twin Towers.) To reflect this new focus, a special ‘Security Directorate’ has been created within DG Tren, focusing on all security issues, such as developing Europe-wide aviation security regulations and coordinating EU security measures with those being introduced in the US to ensure that similar rules apply on both sides of the Atlantic.

2007: the year of rail freight

Looking ahead, Mr Ruete said 2007 would be the “year of rail freight”. The planned liberalisation of freight networks, moves towards cross-acceptance of rolling stock in all EU Member States, and a proposal for mutual recognition on dedicated rail freight ‘corridors’ should all encourage more extensive use of rail freight transport across Europe.

DG Tren is also devising a new ports and marine transport policy, concentrating on improving the “hinterland” area near ports to facilitate the development of container traffic. Hearings and conferences are being organised to get stakeholders’ views, and the results will be integrated into the Lisbon Strategy for boosting jobs and growth.

In the air transport sector, the Commission has drawn up proposals for a package of measures to support small airports, looking at infrastructure charging and the general development of airports throughout the EU. Mr Ruete warned that airports were in danger of moving into a state of “permanent congestion” over the next ten years and would face real blockages if no action was taken.

The last major element of transport policy is the development of ‘Trans-European Networks (TENs), covering transport, energy and telecommunications. Here the aim is to ensure that regional and national networks are linked by modern and efficient infrastructure to facilitate the growth of the internal market. Mr Ruete’s assessment of the results of this work, which began in 1994, to date was that the “glass was half-full, rather than half-empty”.