I attended the first formal Transport Council meeting under the Luxembourg presidency (the presidency) on Thursday 8 October2015.
The Council unanimously agreed general approaches on two proposals which form the “market pillar” of the fourth railway package: the proposal amending directive 2012/34 establishing a single European railway area, and the proposal amending regulation (EC) No 1370/2007 concerning the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail. The general approach texts mandate competitive tendering for public service contracts as a rule, but with several derogations to allow for direct awards in certain circumstances. I welcomed the efforts of the presidency to progress the fourth railway package, and set out the great success of rail liberalisation in our domestic market. I thanked the presidency for the provision allowing directly awarded contracts in exceptional circumstances, but expressed my disappointment in the changes to the texts allowing these in wider cases. I put forward the view that this had limited the ambitions of the market pillar and would lessen competition. However, along with all other member states I recognised the positive steps towards liberalisation that had been made and in the spirit of compromise supported the general approach. The presidency expressed their ambition to engage swiftly in trilogue discussions with the European Parliament and conclude negotiations on the package.
The Council held a policy debate on the review of the Commission’s 2011 White Paper on Transport. I agreed that the objectives set in 2011 are still largely relevant and their importance in ensuring that transport remains a key driver for growth and the single market. I welcomed the Commission’s commitment to better regulation and REFIT, and emphasised the need for EU initiatives to be targeted, proportionate and effective. I also highlighted the opportunity and challenges that digitalisation poses for the EU.
Over lunch there was a debate on cross-border co-operation in rail security following the Thalys incident in August. I put forward my support for the exchange of best practice between member states and transport operators, rather than any legislative initiative.
The presidency provided an update on the European fund for strategic investments and the transport infrastructure investment opportunities available. Some member states made limited interventions to welcome the long-term investment opportunities and the ability to combine with other financing streams and one member state expressed opposition to the use of private investment in long-term infrastructure projects.
Under Any Other Business, the Commission provided an update on new emissions testing procedures and the state of play on the real driving emissions tests. The Commission reiterated the three main actions following the Volkswagen situation: investigations being carried out in member states, the real driving emissions proposal, and in the future revisions to type approval legislation. The Commission asked all member states to respond to proposals. Germany gave a comprehensive update on domestic action, and I along with other member states welcomed the Commission’s call for domestic investigations. I also expressed our support for the real driving emissions proposals and stressed that independent and accurate tests were key to restoring confidence among consumer and environmentalist groups.
Also under Any Other Business, the presidency provided an update on the outcome of the informal Transport Council on Wednesday 7 October and the declaration on cycling.
I was also able to hold bilateral discussions with my EU counterparts from Germany and the Czech Republic to discuss the VW emissions situation. I also met the Dutch Transport Secretary to discuss their preparation and priorities for the forthcoming Dutch presidency.