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EU: Transport Council

Volume 706: debated on Monday 8 December 2008


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I will attend the second Transport Council of the French presidency, which takes place in Brussels on 9 December.

The council will be asked to reach a general approach on a regulation amending the four regulations adopted in 2004, which established the single European sky (SES). As well as consolidating the original SES package, the proposal aims to strengthen the network approach and introduces environmental performance. It offers a pragmatic solution to the drive towards improved performance of the European air traffic management system. While reflecting the need to set performance targets at an EU level, it allows member states to generate their own national plans to contribute to the targets. Furthermore, it recognises the need to examine pan-European network aspects, by introducing the role of a network management function, to facilitate greater co-operation in the use of scarce resources. In general terms, the UK is content with the draft general approach text being put to the council.

The council will be given a progress report and may be asked to reach a partial general approach on an amending regulation extending the responsibilities and competencies of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). EASA was initially responsible only for the airworthiness of aircraft. Its responsibilities were widened to include air operations, flight crew licensing and the oversight of third-country aircraft earlier in 2008. The present draft regulation extends EASA’s responsibilities to the safety of aerodromes, air traffic management (ATM) and air navigation services (ANS), as part of the single European sky initiative. Responsibility for implementing the rules is to remain with member states. The Government broadly support the proposal to extend EASA’s remit, but we consider that there are a number of technical areas where the proposal could be improved. These include clearer applicability and scope for aerodrome safety and a clearer licensing framework for aerodrome operators. The negotiations to date have focused on the ATM/ANS aspects of the proposal, and member states are keen to ensure that the regulation builds on the existing regulatory system established under the single European sky initiative.

The final item of the aviation agenda is in external relations. The council will be asked to adopt two decisions authorising the Commission to open negotiations towards comprehensive aviation agreements with Tunisia and Algeria. The UK supports the mandates, which are in line with others given to the Commission recently to negotiate comprehensive aviation agreements with a number of Mediterranean countries.

In the first of two items on land transport, the council will be invited to reach a general approach on a directive amending the 1999 directive on charging of HGVs for the use of infrastructure (the “Eurovignette” directive). The UK is broadly supportive of the intention behind the directive, which is to allow member states more flexibility to apply the polluter pays principle within any lorry charges that they may choose to introduce. But some member states are arguing that it is too soon to reach agreement, so the likelihood of an outcome is uncertain.  The UK opposes the Commission’s proposal for mandatory earmarking of revenues for transport and associated spending.

The council will be given a progress report on the proposed directive on cross-border enforcement in the field of road safety. This was debated initially at the October council, when the UK expressed its view that it should be a Third Pillar (justice and home affairs) measure. The majority of member states were in agreement with this and the UK has continued to take this line in council negotiations. The UK view is that the progress report should make it clear that full consideration will be given to a Third Pillar approach. This represents the best prospect for real progress towards achieving the improvements in road safety that we all want to see.

The presidency plans to put draft conclusions to the council arising from the Commission’s communications on the greening of transport, the strategy for the internalisation of external costs in transport and the reduction of rail noise on existing rolling stock. I expect to be able to agree to the conclusions.

The council will be asked to adopt a resolution on the establishment of a European regional data centre for the long-range identification and tracking (LRIT) of ships. This will be implementation in Europe of a safety of life at sea (SOLAS) regulation, adopted by IMO in 2006. I expect to be able to agree to the resolution.