I attended the first Transport Council of the Swedish presidency, in Luxembourg on 9 October.
There was a policy debate on the Commission’s Communication “A sustainable future for transport: Towards an integrated, technology-led and user friendly system”, which identifies trends, challenges, and policy objectives and is intended as a consultation document for transport policy over the next 10 years, feeding into the next White Paper in 2010. All member states intervened, many of them drawing attention to the need to support recovery from the current economic crisis while still tackling climate change. The UK was among member states which called for simplification of rules and better integration of policy. We also identified the biggest challenge facing transport as reducing CO2 emissions, while supporting economic prosperity. Implementation of existing policies was critical, and technology must be used to contribute to clearly defined goals.
The Council agreed a complementary negotiating mandate for the negotiation of a road transport agreement between the EU and the Western Balkan partners. This was supplementary to the earlier and principal mandate adopted on 12 June 2008. The presidency expressed the hope that the negotiations would be completed before the end of the year. The road transport negotiating mandate is acceptable to the UK. We entered a statement in the minutes, welcoming the work done on this agreement, which will facilitate market integration between the Western Balkans and the EU, and noting that the granting of this mandate for the Commission to negotiate with the Western Balkan partners does not affect the existing division of competence between the community and the member states.
The Council reached a political agreement on a regulation on the rights of passengers when travelling by sea and inland waterway. The proposal seeks to provide new rights to passengers with reduced mobility and to enhance general passenger rights, while not adding significant burdens to industry, in particular SMEs. The agreed text of the regulation was acceptable to the UK.
There was a progress report on a proposed directive on reporting formalities for ships arriving in and/or departing from ports of the member states. This amending directive aims to ease administrative burdens on international shipping operating within the community, an aim which we support. The presidency will start negotiations with the European Parliament with a view to reaching a First Reading agreement.
Council agreed to a decision to enable Norway and Iceland to join the EU-US air transport agreement, noting the market-opening benefits. This decision will be finalised by formal adoption at a future Council. The UK supports the decision.
The Council adopted two decisions authorising the Commission to open negotiations with Brazil for an agreement on aviation safety issues and negotiations with the US on a memorandum of co-operation in civil aviation research and development. The UK supports both negotiating mandates.
Under AOB, the Commissioner spoke on the carriage of liquids in hand luggage at EU airports and a possible way to proceed in April 2010, when the current restrictions are due to expire. He then gave details of his three step transitional proposal. This involves alleviations for third country transfer passengers, potentially from next April, and then introduction of technological checks by 2012 in large airports and by 2014 for smaller airports. This was the first opportunity for EU Transport Ministers to collectively consider the Commissioner’s proposal. I was one of many Ministers strongly supporting an extension of the existing liquids restrictions after April 2010, until such a time as technological solutions which provide robust detection performance and a better passenger experience are ready for deployment. We are keen to move from the current restriction-based system to one using new screening technologies but only when we are convinced that they can meet the challenge of ensuring the utmost levels of security for passengers, while striving to improve their air travel experience. Aviation security experts will now consider the detail of the Commission proposal, which will then be subject to the regulatory procedure with scrutiny (by the European Parliament). DfT Ministers will be writing to the Lords and Commons Scrutiny Committees shortly.
Also under AOB, the presidency and Commission reported on the EGNOS and Galileo satellite navigation programmes. They declared that the EGNOS (European geostationary navigation overlay system) signal, which improves the accuracy of GPS, had officially started operations on 1 October. On Galileo, the Commission said that it plans to have all the procurement contracts with suppliers let by the end of 2010, with the first two being let by the end of 2009. It is expected that the first satellite launches will take place in 2012 and that a Galileo service would be available from 2013. The UK is continuing to work with the presidency, the Commission and other member states to progress the Galileo programme and ensure that we remain focussed on meeting this timetable.