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EU Transport Council

Volume 468: debated on Thursday 6 December 2007

The Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council took place in Brussels on 29 November-3 December, I attended the first two days, as Europe Minister in the Department for Transport. The Portuguese Minister for Public Works, Transport, and Communications, Mr Mario Lino, was in the chair.

The Council agreed conclusions on the Galileo satellite navigation programme. The conclusions define the general principles covering governance and public sector procurement for the programme. The Transport Council conclusions place a €3.4 billion cap on costs in this financial perspective. The European Commission is identified as the overall programme manager, to be advised by member states. An independent project management team will also review progress and advise the Commission. The conclusions also emphasise the importance of competition in the supply chain, including multiple simultaneous procurement streams. The UK minutes statement, supported by Sweden, stresses the need for review by independent experts at key decision points, including when finalising the contract between the Commission and the European Space Agency for the procurement of the system, at the end of the current In-Orbit Validation phase (in 2010), and once quotes have been received from industry for the deployment phase, as well as regular review of costs, risks and likely revenues from the services to be offered by Galileo.

The Council agreed conclusions on the Commission’s action plan on Freight Transport Logistics. The action plan, published in October as part of a non-legislative “freight package”, identifies 35 short and medium-term actions for the promotion of a more efficient freight sector. In general, we support the Commission’s objective of an efficient freight transport logistics industry which will promote long-term growth and at the same time address issues such as congestion, noise, pollution and CO2 emissions. We support the Commission’s approach in facilitating discussions with industry to provide benchmarking and best practice information for logistics providers.

There was a policy debate on progress made on the renewed EU sustainable development strategy adopted by the European Council in June 2006. On the basis of this debate and another conducted in the Environment Council on 30 October, the presidency will prepare input to the conclusions of the December European Council. In the field of transport, the Commission concentrated on its initiatives on the internalisation of external costs, intelligent transport systems and the freight logistics action plan. A communication drawing lessons from these is planned for June 2008. I drew the Council’s attention to the UK’s new sustainable transport strategy, emphasising that transport has to be at the heart of economic planning and social policy, and make a contribution to public health and social inclusion.

The Council reached a political agreement on three legislative proposals in maritime transport. The first is a regulation on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents, incorporating the main provisions of the Athens Convention 2002 into EC law. (The Athens Convention provides for compensation for death or injury or loss due to an accident at sea.) The agreed text of the regulation is acceptable to the UK. Shortly before the Council, the draft recast directive amending existing directives governing the activities of ship inspection and survey organisations (classification societies), was divided into a directive and a regulation, as had been requested by a number of member states, including the UK. The new directive contains the provisions directed at member states, and the regulation contains the provisions directly applicable to recognized organisations (“ROs”, the classification societies approved to work in the EU). The regulation will give the Commission the power to levy fines on ROs for non-compliance, after consulting member states. The Commission and the Council issued a joint statement on their intention to see similar rules applied at international level. The agreed texts of the directive and the regulation are acceptable to the UK.

Under other business, the Commission presented its recent communication on ports policy. The Commission also proposed that the current Commission observer to the International Maritime Organisation be replaced by a community observer. The Commission would like the Council to take a decision on this in April. I was among Ministers who stated their preference for a decision to be made in the light of a more general review of the community’s role in international organisations, planned for 2009.

The Council reached a general approach on a directive on airport charges, which aims to set common principles for the levying of charges for aircraft landing and take-off and the handling of passengers at community airports. The threshold for application of the directive in the compromise text is 5 million passengers per year or the largest airport in a member state which has none reaching that figure. The agreed text was acceptable to the UK. It is more proportionate than the initial proposal and enables current UK economic regulation practices to continue.

The Council reached a political agreement on a recast regulation on common rules for the operation of air transport services in the community (the “third package review”) This regulation consolidates three existing regulations of 1992, which established the aviation single market. The proposal seeks to update the 1992 regulations in the light of experience of the single market. It closes certain loopholes and ensures clarity and consistent application of the common rules across all member states. The agreed text is acceptable to the UK.

Two issues of aviation external relations were on the agenda. The Council adopted decisions giving the Commission mandates to negotiate with Jordan on a comprehensive aviation agreement, and with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on an agreement regarding aviation security audits and inspections and related matters. The principal aim of the latter is to reduce duplication of audits. Both mandates are acceptable to the UK.

In road transport, there were progress reports on two proposals: a recast regulation on common rules for access to the international road haulage market; and a regulation on common rules concerning the conditions to be complied with to pursue the occupation of road transport operator. Some key issues remain to be resolved: on the former proposal, the rules for access to domestic haulage markets (“cabotage”), and on the latter, the establishment of, and access to, national registers of operators.

The Council reached political agreement on two rail transport proposals. These are: a directive amending the 2004 directive on rail safety; and a directive amending the 2004 directive which established the European Rail Agency. The two texts are acceptable to the UK.

The directive on interoperability of the Community rail system was withdrawn from the Council agenda, as the presidency and the European Parliament are likely to move towards a First Reading agreement on adoption of the proposal. This is acceptable to the UK. The EP vote on the Directive has been postponed until the December plenary.