I attended the final Transport Council under the Greek presidency (the presidency) in Luxembourg on Thursday 5 June.
The Council reached political agreement on its first reading of the technical pillar of the fourth railway package—recast directives on interoperability and safety, and a regulation on the European Agency for Railways (ERA). Discussions were generally positive with the UK and other member states overwhelmingly supporting the presidency compromise texts. I emphasised the benefits of market opening in the UK and welcomed the incoming Italian presidency’s position to progress the political pillar (a position strongly endorsed by the Commission), but abstained from the votes on procedural grounds as only one of the three texts (the regulation on ERA) had cleared all our parliamentary scrutiny processes.
The Council also reached political agreement on the amended directive laying down the maximum weights and dimensions of road vehicles in national and international traffic. Discussions focused on the outstanding issue of cross-border movement of vehicles that exceed the maximum weights and dimensions laid down in the directive. Member states were divided between those pushing for legal clarity and those that could not support any changes to the relevant article (article 4) due to concerns about negative modal shift and increased demands on infrastructure. I strongly supported a proposal which would have provided the legal certainty the UK was seeking in order to safeguard the long-standing cross-border movement of vehicles of over 4 metres in height between the UK and Ireland. This was supported by several other member states. There was, however, significant opposition and as a result the presidency had no option but to conclude that no changes would be made to article 4 in order to secure a deal on the overall file. Following lobbying in the margins from the UK and other likeminded member states the Commission agreed to make a declaration reaffirming that its interpretation of the directive is that if two neighbouring member states both allow vehicles that deviate from the requirements in the annex, then those neighbouring member states may permit the cross-border movement of these vehicles, but not more widely. This was a positive outcome for the UK as it confirmed that our existing cross-border practices could continue.
The Council took note of progress reports on the proposed air passenger rights and the port services regulations. The Commission expressed disappointment that the Council had not yet reached a common view on air passenger rights and hoped rapid agreement could be reached on this and all other aviation dossiers including the EU-Ukraine common aviation area agreement. On the specifics of the air passenger rights dossier, the Commission expressed reservations regarding the category of unexpected flight safety shortcomings and the proposed deletion of the compensation regime for missed connecting flights. Several member states used the opportunity of the progress report on the port services regulation to emphasise their concerns, in particular on scope and whether a regulation was the appropriate legal instrument.
Any other business was dominated by a wide range of aviation items with the Commission providing updates on work at international and European levels to improve aircraft tracking following the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, and also its report on the application of the airport charges directive. Spain presented its information paper on preserving and enhancing the EU influence in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the Netherlands pressed the Commission for a clear timetable to discuss further the social dimension in the air transport sector.
Under land transport the presidency provided information on the outcome of the 8 May informal Transport Council and on Shift2Rail. The Commission also provided an update on the cross-border traffic offence directive. On the maritime side, the Council conclusions on the EU’s maritime transport policy were adopted without debate.
Finally, Italian Transport Minister, Maurizio Lupi, set out the theme for the Italian EU presidency as “infrastructure and transport for growth and cohesion” and confirmed that the transport priorities will be actions on TEN-T networks, ports services, the political pillar of the fourth railway package and the single European sky. The key dates for the Italian presidency will be Transport Councils on 8 October in Luxembourg and 3 December in Brussels. An informal council will be held in Milan on 16-17 September.