My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
I attended the EU Transport Council in Brussels on 9 December.
The council discussed the regulation amending the four regulations adopted in 2004 that established the single European sky (SES). The amending regulation consolidates and strengthens the earlier regulations, with the aim of improving the performance and sustainability of the European aviation system: Ministers were in agreement on the technical elements of the new proposal. I joined several other Ministers in expressing strong support for the package. It was not, however, possible for member states to reach a general approach, as an issue regarding applicability of the new legislation to Gibraltar was raised just before the council. The Spanish Minister and I undertook to resolve this issue bilaterally, so that council agreement on this important proposal can be achieved soon.
The council was given a presidency progress report on an amending regulation extending the responsibilities of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The council reached a partial general approach (on extension of EASA’s scope to air traffic management and air navigation services). The progress report also covered the provisions on extension of scope to aerodrome safety matters. The presidency underlined the agency’s important work of inspection and certification in these areas, as an integral part of the single European sky package.
The council adopted two decisions authorising the Commission to open negotiations towards comprehensive aviation agreements with Tunisia and Algeria. The UK supports these mandates.
The presidency and the Commission reported on the successful outcome of negotiations on an EU/Canada aviation agreement. I thanked the Commission for its work on this good agreement, which may be signed during the Czech presidency.
The presidency tabled a report on progress to date in consideration of a proposed directive to amend directive 1999/62 on charging of heavy goods vehicles for the use of certain infrastructure (the “Eurovignette” directive). The proposal aims to provide member states with the flexibility to introduce charges for lorries, to internalise the costs of congestion, noise and air pollution. The presidency noted that considerable progress had been made towards agreement on a number of issues, but further discussion would be needed on questions such as the inclusion of congestion charging, the methodology for calculating the level of external cost charges and the question of hypothecation (earmarking) of income from charges. The UK supports the principles underlying the proposal but opposes mandatory hypothecation of revenues. The Czech Republic will aim to reach agreement on this proposal in council during its presidency.
The presidency gave a progress report on the proposed directive on cross-border enforcement in the field of road safety, noting that there had been a wide consensus on the need to take action in this area and hoping that further progress will be made during the Czech presidency.
The council adopted conclusions on the greening of transport, the Commission’s strategy for the internalisation of external costs in transport and the reduction of rail noise on existing rolling stock. The UK supported the conclusions.
The council adopted a resolution on the establishment of a European regional data centre for the long-range identification and tracking (LRIT) of ships. This is the implementation in Europe of a safety of life at sea (SOLAS) regulation adopted by the IMO in 2006. The resolution is acceptable to the UK.
Adopted by the council without debate (as “A points”) were common positions on proposals on flag state requirements and the civil liability of shipowners, both of which are part of the third maritime legislative package. The other six proposals in the package had already been adopted by the council, and the presidency announced agreement on those between the council and the European Parliament in the Conciliation Committee the previous day.