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Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council

Volume 447: debated on Friday 16 June 2006

I attended the transport session of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, held in Luxembourg on 9 June. The Austrian Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology, Mr. Hubert Gorbach, was in the chair.

Political agreement was reached on the revised proposal for a regulation on public passenger transport services by rail and road, establishing new rules for the payment of subsidy and the award of exclusive rights. Most of the final UK positions were adopted but we agreed to a longer transition period as part of the compromise. I was able to agree to the final compromise text, which does offer a satisfactory balance. An important consequence of the regulation will be that much needed transparency will be introduced into the process of awarding contracts. The agreed text is expected to go to the European Parliament for second reading under the German presidency early next year.

The Council adopted conclusions on the mid-term review of the EU road safety action programme. Among other things, the conclusions noted that the number of fatalities on European roads had fallen by 17.5 per cent. between 2001 and 2005, welcomed the positive effects of the member states’ national campaigns, and agreed on the need to strengthen road safety measures and initiatives at community or member state level.

The Council also adopted conclusions on the NAIADES action programme to promote the use of inland waterways for freight transport. The conclusions agreed to the strategic areas for action set out in the Commission Communication and invited the Commission to produce detailed proposals on its recommendations.

The presidency called for a Council decision on the signature of the transport protocol to the Alpine Convention. While the UK is prepared in principle to support the signature, I supported the view expressed by a number of Ministers that the Council should take account of the views of a member state which is directly affected and has yet to take a view on signature, following the recent appointment of a new Government. The presidency postponed a decision.

The Commissioner reported to the Council on a number of aspects of the Galileo satellite navigation project. He reported that the main elements of the concession contract would be in place by the end of this year, ahead of signature at the start of 2007. Further consideration of the financial details and due diligence by lenders would then take place in 2007. During a discussion, I called for the Commission to speed up decision making so we could make faster progress on the participation of third countries in Galileo. Member states were agreed that it would be desirable to have a transparent process to decide the future location of the Galileo Supervisory Authority (GSA). I put forward the case for Cardiff, the UK bid, on which the Welsh Assembly Government are leading.

The Commissioner reported to the Council on priorities for the transport Trans-European Network. Responses from Ministers were generally supportive.

The Council reached a general approach on the regulation establishing a joint undertaking to develop the new generation European air traffic management system (SESAR), which is the technological implementation of the European single sky. I set out the UK's one outstanding concern—on the need for air navigation service providers to be given voting rights in the administrative board. It was agreed that this issue would be considered within the review of the joint undertaking to be carried out in accordance with article 1 of the regulation. The current text of the regulation was acceptable to the UK.

The Commissioner reported on the latest situation in two areas of aviation external relations. On EU-US air services, the presidency and the Commission outlined the state of play in negotiations, and hoped that a final agreement would be possible in the autumn. I stressed the need for a balanced deal. The Commissioner also gave a progress report on negotiations with Russia on Siberian overflights. The negotiations were ongoing and were taking place in a constructive atmosphere in an effort to reach a solution.

In maritime transport, the Council reached a general approach on the draft directive on vessel traffic monitoring. I joined other Ministers in accepting a threshold of 15 metres for the fitting of automated identification systems (AIS) to fishing vessels; a reasonable phase-in period was achieved. The current text is acceptable to the UK.

The Council took note of progress on the recast directive on port state control.

Under AOB there were brief updates from the presidency and the Commission on: implementation of the first rail package, the European aviation safety agency (EASA), status of ratification of international maritime conventions in the International Labour Organisation (ILO); list of air carriers subject to bans in the EU; liner shipping block exemption—repeal of regulation (EEC) No. 4056/86; and passenger name records (PNR) in aviation. There was no substantive discussion on these points.

During the Council I took part in the signing of the agreement on the European common aviation area. As a result of this agreement, the common aviation market now applies to a total of 35 countries.