I will attend the final Transport Council under the Latvian presidency (the presidency), taking place in Luxembourg, on Thursday 11 June.
The presidency is aiming for a general approach on a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down technical requirements for inland waterway vessels and repealing directive 2006/87/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council. The proposed directive seeks to replace the detailed technical annex of directive 2006/87/EC with simpler standards to be developed by a new international body (to be known as CESNI). The UK intends to support the proposed directive as it streamlines existing processes; we have safeguarded crucial existing derogations for the UK inland waterway sector; and secured explicit links to the output of CESNI, which the UK considers to be the appropriate body to develop technical standards for inland waterway vessels.
There will be two progress reports, the first on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of the cancellation or long delay of flights and regulation (EC) No 2027/97 on air carrier liability in respect of the carriage of passengers and their baggage by air (air passenger rights). The presidency has held a number of working level meetings over the last few months to try to resolve four main issues: the trigger points for when delay compensation is due; compensation for connecting flights; extraordinary circumstances; and cabin baggage. Limited progress has been made during the working groups, with most member states still having significant concerns about at least one of these issues. On trigger points, the UK has supported fixed compensation amounts for delays of at least five, nine or 12 hours depending upon the length of the flight in question. Our analysis shows that such a regime would strike the right balance between adequately compensating passengers for time lost, while ensuring that burdens on industry are proportionate. The UK also considers that to include compensation for missed connections would place a significant burden on the operators of short-haul feeder flights, damaging connectivity.
On the issue of extraordinary circumstances in which compensation is not due to the passenger, we have supported the inclusion of a binding and non-exhaustive list in the text of the regulation. This would increase clarity while retaining flexibility regarding what can be considered as extraordinary. We also oppose limiting the use of extraordinary circumstances to the current flight and the previous flight to help to minimise burdens on industry. On the number and type of cabin baggage items allowed, I am of the view that this issue should not be regulated and should be a commercial decision for the carrier.
Although this dossier is currently down for a progress report, there may be a wide ranging debate at Council, including a discussion on Gibraltar airport. Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 was adopted prior to the 2006 Cordoba agreement and therefore contains a clause suspending its application to Gibraltar airport, as was normal practice at that time. The Commission’s proposal does not contain an amendment to remove the Gibraltar airport suspension clause from the original regulation. The UK will continue to press for the extension of the regulation to Gibraltar airport in line with the EU treaties. I will work with the Minister for Europe on this and other aviation dossiers to ensure that any language on Gibraltar is acceptable.
The second progress report concerns the proposal for a directive of European Parliament and of the Council amending directive 2012/34 establishing a single European railway area, as regards the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail and the governance of the railway infrastructure and a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending regulation (EC) No 1370/2007 concerning the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail (“market pillar” of the 4th railway package). Negotiations of the market pillar by the Council began under the Italian presidency in June 2014 and have progressed further under the Latvian presidency. The presidency has produced a set of draft amendments to the package. These have improved the text in a number of areas which could otherwise have resulted in additional burdens in the UK, for example the amendments no longer increase regulation of the transport planning process and have reduced the proposed new restrictions on outsourcing and co-operation by different businesses in the railway industry. The key outstanding sticking point is the question of when a public authority should be able to decide not to hold a competition for a rail contract and instead make a direct award to their chosen train operator. I plan to support the progress made by the presidency in reducing the regulatory burden the package would impose, while noting that there is still scope for further improvement. I intend to underline the success of liberalisation and competition in revitalising the UK railway market over the past 20 years and to argue that competition is vital for a competitive and sustainable railway sector. In particular I propose to state the use of direct awards should be restricted in order to promote competition. Any exemptions to competitive tendering of rail contracts therefore need to be based on objective criteria, where it can be demonstrated that a direct award is justified.
Under any other business, the Commission will provide information on its review of the road safety strategy 2015-2020 and will provide an update on the Christophersen-Bodewig-Secchi report on TEN-T and CEF ahead of the TEN-T days taking place in Riga from 22-23 June. The Commission will also provide an update on the shift to rail proposal. The presidency will report on the outcome of the 3rd ASEM Transport Ministers’ meeting held in Riga on 29-30 April at which the UK was represented at official level. Luxembourg, the incoming presidency of the EU will present its work programme.