I attended the first Transport Council under the Italian presidency in Luxembourg on Wednesday 8 October.
The Council adopted a general approach on the ports services regulation. Following intense negotiations with other member states and the Commission, the UK secured an important competitive market exemption clause, ensuring that, where effective competition demonstrably exists, this regulation would not impose additional unnecessary burdens on ports. In the main, ports in the UK fit this criterion.
Despite concerns from some member states that the proposed regulation does not go far enough, particularly with regards to scope and financial transparency, all member states voted in favour of the proposal apart from Lithuania, who voted against, and the UK, who abstained. Looking ahead to their upcoming presidency Latvia indicated that they would look to sustain momentum on this dossier.
The Council also reached a general approach on the revised directive on the cross-border exchange of information on traffic offences. I fully supported the road safety objectives of the proposal but simultaneously expressed concerns that we had not been given enough time to analyse the detail and reserved the right to examine whether future proposals in this area contained justice and home affairs content. As a result I formally tabled a joint minute statement with Ireland setting out these concerns and abstained.
In the Council’s first discussion on the fourth railway package market pillar, I strongly endorsed proposals to liberalise the domestic rail passenger market. I emphasised that the effects of competition in the UK over the last 20 years had delivered a thriving rail industry. Some member states supported market opening in principle but the Council was clearly divided with many favouring investment over market opening as a more effective means of securing rail’s future. The Commission emphasised that investment alone was not the solution to combating rail’s declining competitiveness and loss of modal share and that the market pillar was an essential complement to the technical pillar to deliver rail’s full potential. The presidency agreed it was inconceivable to consider the fourth railway package without the market pillar and restated its ambition to reach general approach at the December Transport Council.
The Council went on to discuss the opening of the market to the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS). There was unanimous support to integrate RPAS into European airspace but member states stressed the need for a gradual approach which ensured the primacy of safety and sufficient time for the development of associated technologies. I strongly pressed that any future regulatory proposals should avoid stifling innovation and provide a framework proportionate to the risk. Latvia stated that it was keen to progress political discussions on RPAS during its presidency and would host an event in Riga in March 2015.
On the single European Sky II+ progress report, the presidency reported that good progress was being made on this challenging file and invited Ministers to a policy discussion on the single European Sky in Rome on 6 and 7 November 2014, with a view to reaching general approach at the December Transport Council.
The presidency presented its paper on elections to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Council. I urged EU member states to support the ongoing consensus-seeking process among the pan-European 44 states of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) to decide this matter. The Council took note.
The Netherlands spoke movingly on aviation safety and the follow up to the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, and informed Council on the preliminary findings of the investigation by Dutch Safety Board with expert support from the UK, Ukraine, the USA, Malaysia and Netherlands. The interim report concluded that the aircraft had been penetrated from the exterior by a number of high energy objects which led to a loss of structural integrity and the break-up of the aircraft. The investigation was expected to issue its final report by July 2015. A concurrent criminal investigation had been launched. The Netherlands asked member states to contribute to the ongoing ICAO taskforce which aimed to review procedures for civil flights over conflict zones with a view to better exchange of information. The Commission added that its external action service would be working with EU member states to determine a mechanism for information sharing with EU airlines. I expressed our sincere sympathy and solidarity with the Netherlands and stated that we would continue our active engagement in the ICAO taskforce.
In a wide range of any other business, the presidency summarised the outcome of the informal Transport Council held in Milan on 16 and 17 September, which had focused on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). The discussions on planning, governance and financing of infrastructure would feed into the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy. In his last Transport Council, Vice-President Kallas reflected that he was proud of his achievements in reshaping TEN-T and urged Council to ensure transport secured an appropriate share of President Juncker’s recently announced €300 billion investment programme.
Poland presented an information paper on the situation of road hauliers in the context of the Russian import ban on certain EU products, calling upon member states and the Commission to help mitigate the effects of the Russian import ban on the road haulage sector. Three member states echoed these concerns and called for measures to be taken at an EU level. The Commission expressed sympathy with those member states but underlined the importance of the wider political context and stated that it was not planning to amend legislation at this stage.
Finally, the Commission updated the Council on the recent Galileo satellites incident, indicating that the most likely cause was a mechanical fault and a full report was due by the end of October. The launch planned for December would be postponed until the root cause was established and corrected. This was likely to be within the first half of 2015.