I attended the first Transport Council under the Danish presidency (the presidency) in Brussels on Thursday 22 March.
The presidency sought agreement to a general approach on a proposal for a regulation which defines the trans-European transport network (TEN-T). This sets out the actions to be undertaken at EU and member state level to develop the network. I was able to support the general approach after securing a UK amendment that will ensure that progress on the projects required by the regulation would be subject to the availability of financial resources. This amendment received support from Germany, Latvia, Finland, Romania, Ireland, Bulgaria, Slovenia and France. In my contribution to the debate, I also argued that governance structures on corridors should be less burdensome, more flexible and focus on contentious cross-border projects. Most member states supported the compromise text which was viewed as a balance between the Commission’s initial proposals and what they could accept.
The Council also agreed a general approach on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on ground-handling services at EU airports and repealing Council directive 96/67/EC. This proposal is part of the airports package. My intervention emphasised the UK’s reservations about the cost impact and administrative burdens of the original proposal, but I acknowledged that these had been largely addressed in the presidency’s revised text. In particular, I welcomed the removal of compulsory licensing and of the Commission’s proposed powers to tell a member state to close its markets to third country operators that refused to open theirs. Another important point secured in the negotiations in the run up to the meeting was the assurance that service quality would be set locally, with enforcement centred on the contractual relationships between airports, airlines and ground-handlers, with efforts to set homogenised Europe-wide standards removed from the proposal.
In the light of these changes and the fact that the regulation is expected to deliver more competition in ground-handling at airports in other European countries and hence reduce costs for airlines (and indirectly for passengers), I felt able to support the presidency’s compromise text.
Under any other business, the Commission set out their future intentions on the follow up to the Costa Concordia accident in Italy in January. They intend to carry out a review of legislative proposals on domestic passenger ships, to be submitted for consideration at the IMO (International Maritime Organisation). The Commissioner also indicated there may be a revision to the ship stability directive, and work on watertight doors, with a second wave of regulatory activity later in the year. The Commissioner was supportive of renewed discussion both with the EU and the IMO on passenger ship safety. Italy gave an account of the emergency response to the accident and noted there would be an administrative enquiry.
I intervened to stress the need for a considered response that takes on board the outcome of the investigation currently underway before any decisions are taken as to whether regulatory changes are needed.
Also under any other business, the Commission provided an update on the international reaction to the inclusion of aviation in the emissions trading system (ETS). The Commission reported that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) had initiated new work to identify a global market-based measure for the aviation sector. If this work leads to an international agreement on tackling climate change emissions from aviation, the EU could, as set out in the ETS directive, review its legislation. I stressed the importance of maintaining a unified and robust European position and there was clear support from other member states for the aviation ETS.
The proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council regulation (EEC) No 3821/85 on recording equipment in road transport on which the presidency was hoping for a general approach and the any other business item Galileo and EGNOS programmes on which the Commission was providing information, were not discussed at the Council.
During my visit, I was also able to hold a bilateral discussion with the vice-president of the Commission, Siim Kallas on the main items for Transport Council discussion. A constructive exchange took place on upcoming Commission proposals for airport slots and rail policy. I used the opportunity to highlight the UK’s work with the Commission on the better regulation agenda.
I also met my counterparts from Cyprus and Ireland to discuss plans for their forthcoming presidencies of the EU, in July-December 2012 and in January-June 2013, respectively. The Cypriots’ main priorities focus on re-energising the integrated maritime policy, and promoting ‘Blue Growth’. The Irish are at an early stage in their preparations and sought UK’s views ahead of their presidency. My discussion with the Cypriots and Irish Ministers also included an overview of the important work that the UK is taking forward with the European Commission on the better regulation agenda.