I will attend the first Transport Council of the Slovenian Presidency which takes place in Luxembourg on 7 April.
There will be a progress report and policy debate on three proposals in road transport: a recast regulation on common rules for access to the international road haulage market; a regulation on common rules concerning the conditions to be complied with in order to pursue the occupation of road transport operator; and a recast regulation on common rules for access to the market for coach and bus services. The Government welcome the intention to clarify and simplify the existing provisions. The proposed changes in the legislation should maintain and improve road safety while minimising the burdens on industry and they should help to reduce distortion of competition through greater levelling of enforcement and compliance between the UK and other EU road haulage and coach operators. However, we have some reservations, particularly in relation to the proposed definition of cabotage, the responsibilities of transport managers and the information to be included in the interoperable national enforcement registers. I will be raising these issues at the Council.
On rail freight, the Council will be asked to adopt conclusions on the Commission Communication “'Towards a rail network giving priority to freight”. The conclusions broadly welcome the Communication and invite the Commission to devise measures to achieve the efficient operation of international rail freight services along cross-border corridors, mainly through improved co-operation between national infrastructure managers. Key UK concerns with the communication have been addressed satisfactorily in the conclusions: the Commission’s suggestion of giving “priority to international freight” over domestic rail traffic (a problem for the UK and many other member states with mixed, passenger and freight, traffic) has been substituted with a more general objective of “facilitating efficient flows of international rail freight”; the Commission’s apparent preference for new legislation to achieve its objective has been mitigated by an invitation to consider also the consistent implementation and rigorous enforcement of existing EC legislation, alongside new legislation where this may be required; and the Commission has been invited to develop relevant alternative proposals on the basis of an appropriate analysis of their impact and their relative costs and benefits and in accordance with the principles of Better Regulation. The UK can be satisfied with this successful outcome which will enable it to support these Conclusions in Council.
In November, Ministers agreed conclusions on the Galileo satellite navigation programme defining the general principles for a public sector governance and procurement strategy for the programme. This Council will be asked to reach a general approach on the text of a regulation to implement the agreement reached in November. The Government have sought to ensure the current text of the regulation provides for the implementation of sound project management principles where the risks can be effectively managed, a fair and competitive playing field for suppliers at all levels, including SMEs, and robust measures for the control of costs. I believe the current text meets the UK’s objectives. A number of issues remain under negotiation including the role and responsibilities of the European Parliament and ensuring a clear division of tasks between the Commission and the Galileo supervisory authority in the programme. It is possible that some of these will have to be resolved in discussions at Council itself. The Government are keen to ensure an efficient decision-making process, project management and governance structure.
The Council will be asked to reach a political agreement on a directive on airport charges, which aims to establish a framework of common principles as to how airports determine their charges for aircraft landing, take-off and handling of passengers. As well as setting standards for transparency and consultation, the directive requires an independent supervisory body to intervene in the case of disagreement over a decision on charges. As part of a political agreement, the UK supports the adoption of certain amendments proposed by the European Parliament where they strike a balance between the interests of airlines and airports without imposing unnecessary or disproportionate regulation.
The Council will also be asked to reach a general approach on a regulation on a code of conduct for computerised reservation systems, to replace the existing Regulation 2299/89. The UK supports the proposed general approach that aims to update and simplify the existing code and bring it into line with other European legislation, while maintaining safeguards against anti-competitive behaviour.
The Council will be asked to adopt conclusions relating to a Commission Communication entitled “An agenda for a Sustainable Future in General and Business Aviation”. The draft conclusions welcome the Commission’s overview of the sector and its coherent position on the future development of general and business aviation. We welcome recognition of the need for proportionality in any future European regulation, given the diverse nature of general and business aviation activities. We support the conclusions, which recognise that general and business aviation provides important social and economic benefits, and that there should be a common set of data on this sector, in order to contribute to safety improvements and a better understanding of the sector.
There will be progress reports and policy debates on two current legislative proposals in maritime transport. These are a directive on compliance with flag state requirements and a directive on the civil liability and financial guarantees of ship owners. The Government have consistently argued that the Commission has yet to establish either a compelling need or a robust better regulation case for these proposals. We recognise that the Slovenian Presidency has made a significant effort to reach an agreed compromise on these proposals. Despite this effort, however, the majority of the member states, including the UK, are continuing to voice their strong concerns on both proposals and agreement is unlikely in the near future. There are five other maritime safety measures (ship classification, accident investigation, port-state control, vessel-traffic monitoring and carrier liability) which risk being delayed due to the ongoing discussion on flag state and civil liability. The Government consider that it is more important to finalise these five other proposals rather than to continue to pursue agreement on flag state and civil liability at the present time.