Written statement to Parliament

EU Transport Council: 22 June 2011

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Review of the 16 June 2011 Transport Council meeting which discussed rail, maritime, environmental and volcanic ash flight issues.

I attended the second Transport Council of the Hungarian Presidency in Luxembourg on 16 June 2011.

The council reached a general approach on a directive which recasts the 2001 first rail package. The 2001 legislation set the initial framework for a single European rail market, setting out principles for charging and access to the network. The present draft directive modifies the 3 2001 directives. The presidency tabled a compromise text which was slightly amended at the council. The presidency then concluded that there was a qualified majority for a general approach. The text of the general approach is acceptable to the UK.

The council also reached a general approach on the draft regulation amending regulation 1406/2002, which established the European Maritime Safety Agency. This amending regulation modifies and extends the tasks of the agency to bring them in line with recent international and EU developments in the maritime safety field. I set out the UK’s opposition to any staff or administrative cost increases for the agency, and was able to accept revised wording on agency resources, which addressed our concerns.

The council debated the European Commission’s recent white paper, ‘Roadmap to a single European transport area - towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system’, which was issued in March. The council debate centred on a number of questions put by the presidency.

The white paper aims to increase the sustainability and competitiveness of the sector while moving towards a fully integrated transport network. In doing so, the commission aims to cut carbon emissions from transport by 60% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). Member states broadly agreed that the transport sector has to make an adequate contribution to the achievement of the medium and long-term climate change targets. I explained that, while supporting the broad thrust of the 10 goals in the white paper, the UK has some concerns on the detail.

We are not in favour of having targets for their own sake, and do not think that it is practical or desirable to have a multiplicity of goals and targets. Furthermore, we do not support sector specific targets, which would constrain our progress on carbon reduction within the economy as a whole. Wherever targets are set, we believe that they must be realistic and supported by robust evidence and cost impact analysis. I also joined others in proposing that we work internationally to negotiate similar commitments with all of the global partners, in the framework of international organisations.

I stressed that the EU should focus on actions that need to be undertaken at EU level, and where there was no such case, it should be left to member states and local authorities to act. I also welcomed, with support from some other ministers, the commission’s commitment to undertake thorough impact assessments for any actions. I urged the commission to consider the importance of reducing the overall burden of regulation, to help our businesses and the budgetary constraints that we all face, as it takes forward the white paper proposals.

Council conclusions were adopted on EU inland waterway transport, inviting the commission to launch a project to continue support for an existing inland waterway programme, which is designed to encourage modal shift of freight from road to inland waterways, and to bring forward proposals for a follow-on programme. The conclusions are acceptable to the UK.

The council adopted a decision on the signing and conclusion of an agreement with the intergovernmental organisation for International Carriage by Rail on the EU accession to the convention concerning international carriage by rail of 9 May 1980, as amended by the Vilnius Protocol of 3 June 1999. The decision is acceptable to the UK.

The council adopted 2 decisions in the area of aviation external relations, both of which were acceptable to the UK.

The first decision authorised the commission to open negotiations with Moldova on a comprehensive air transport agreement.

The second was a decision on the signature of an air transport agreement between the EU and Brazil. Ministers pre-signed the agreement in the margins of the council.

Among any other business items, the commission reported on air cargo security work which has been carried out in pursuit of the action plan endorsed by ministers at the December 2010 justice and home affairs and transport councils. They were disappointed that a proposal to strengthen EU inbound air cargo security had been narrowly defeated in the June Regulatory Committee, and called on ministers from member states which voted against or abstained to rethink their position. I joined Germany in expressing strong support for the commission, and called for work to continue on the proposal.

Also under any other business, the commission reported on work to deal with the impact of volcanic ash on the EU aviation sector and on recent developments in implementing the single European sky. On volcanic ash, I underlined the importance of developing the existing methodology and modelling, and increasing pressure on equipment manufacturers for engine tolerance levels.

In the margins of the council, I met ministers from France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to discuss the work on volcanic ash. In a separate discussion, I exchanged views on better regulation with the Netherlands minister.

The UK abstained on one item on the A point list, namely the adoption of a council decision on the conclusion of a memorandum of cooperation between the EU and the International Civil Aviation Organisation. This reflects our general need to be vigilant regarding the balance between member states’ and EU competence in United Nation bodies and other international organisations.