I attended the second Transport Council of the Polish Presidency in Brussels on 12 December 2012.
The council reached political agreement on a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the council establishing a single European railway area (Recast). At its first reading of the proposal on 16 November the European Parliament made amendments which differed significantly from the council’s general approach adopted at the June Transport Council. However, the political agreement text only incorporates those amendments that do not alter the general approach, and are acceptable to the UK. The commission hopes a 2nd reading deal can be struck with the European Parliament under the Danish presidency.
The council agreed a partial general approach on a draft regulation amending regulation 3821/85 on recording equipment in road transport. This proposal would amend the specification for tachographs, which measure hours spent at the wheel by commercial lorry and bus drivers.
The council also agreed a general approach on:
- a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the council amending Directive 2008/106/EC of the European Parliament and of the council on the minimum level of training of seafarers to bring the extant directive into line with the latest International Maritime Organization rules
- a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the council on the accelerated phasing-in of double-hull or equivalent design requirements for single-hull oil tankers (Recast) - the amendments reflect changes to the international regime for tankers adopted at the International Maritime Organization between 2002 and 2009
The council noted a progress report on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the council on union guidelines for the development of the Trans-European Transport Network. This item generated substantial discussion. I intervened to acknowledge the importance of good cross-border infrastructure for the single market, but expressed concern about binding obligations proposed and the financial and administrative burdens they would place on member states at a time when fiscal constraints are substantial and also stressed the need for member states to retain their responsibility for planning decisions, processes and implementation. On the proposed increase to the TEN-T budget I said budgetary restraint must be the priority.
Under any other business, the commission presented its new proposals on a ‘better airport package’ which cover a recast of the slot allocation regulation, and revisions to the current directives on ground handling and noise which are intended to address issues of capacity, growth, environmental concerns and competitiveness. The proposals on ground handling and noise have been recast as (directly applicable) regulations.
The commission reported on the European aviation safety management system and air cargo security action plan. I intervened in strong support of the European aviation safety management system and to request that the commission report back on progress at a future transport.
The commission, at the request of Finland, reported on the current state of play with regards to the aviation EU emissions trading system. There had been three main developments since the June Transport Council: the US House of Representatives had approved a Bill that would prohibit US airlines from complying with ETS; there had been political messages against ETS emerging from the International Civil Aviation Organization council in November; and President Obama had specifically raised the issue at the EU/US summit on 28 November, noting the need to avoid confrontation. The commission’s assessment was that while international opposition was strong, so was the EU response. The commission acknowledged there still could be a challenge in ICAO under the Chicago Convention, and that it was important to understand what forms retaliatory action could take. Following a legal challenge from the US Air Transport Association and 3 US airlines the European Court of Justice will deliver its judgement on the case on 21 December.
Antonio Tajani, commissioner responsible for industry and entrepreneurship, updated ministers on recent developments within the Galileo programme and indicated that since the successful launch of the first two satellites in October the system was now up and running with real momentum behind it. The commission also presented their proposed regulation on Galileo governance and exploitation.
Before the council, I met ministers from Finland, and Ireland, the German State Secretary, and the Northern Irish Transport Minister to discuss items on the Transport Council agenda, in particular TEN-T. In a separate discussion after Transport Council, I exchanged views on TEN-T and better regulation with the Siim Kallas, the Transport Commissioner.
The UK did not participate in the vote on one item on the A point list, namely Article 81 based council decision authorising the EU to accede to the 2002 Protocol to the Athens Convention relating to the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea. The UK has however subsequently notified its intention to opt-in to the council decision.
The Danish delegation presented the work programme of their forthcoming presidency of the EU. The incoming Danish presidency’s overarching aim in the transport sector will be ‘green growth’ and they will take forward work on current Council dossiers. For example, they will be seeking to reach a 2nd reading agreement with the European Parliament on the recast of the first railway package. They will also commence work on proposals included in the recently published commission work programme such as the airport package and the proposals on driving licences and the satellite navigation programmes as well as on an expected proposal on enforcement of the maritime labour convention. Their main priorities are the TEN-T guidelines and the airport package, especially ground handling and noise reduction proposals.