I attended the final Transport Council of the Lithuanian Presidency in Brussels on Thursday 5 December.
The Council noted progress on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Union Agency for Railways and repealing Regulation (EC) no 881/2004 (part of the 4th Railway Package). This regulation would define a range of new tasks for the European Railway Agency following changes in the recast Railway Interoperability and Safety Directives. The Presidency noted the importance of completing this regulation which would conclude consideration of the technical pillar of the 4th Railway Package.
The Council reached a general approach on the proposed directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure. With member states divided in terms of levels of regulation they would like to see the Presidency successfully reached a compromise position acceptable to all which removed EU level binding targets. There were reservations from 3 member states, who had hoped for more ambitious binding targets for electric vehicle recharging infrastructure deployment. There was widespread support for harmonised technical EU standards for infrastructure, with the general approach text successfully safeguarded to allow for a multi-standard approach for electric vehicle plug types, ensuring that member states can continue to support existing standards. The upcoming Greek Presidency will seek to reach a first reading agreement with the European Parliament in early 2014.
The Council noted progress made on the review of a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights and Regulation (EC) No 2027/97 on air carrier liability in respect of the carriage of passengers and their baggage. The Presidency pointed to progress made in a number of areas including time and distance triggers for compensation and what would constitute an extraordinary circumstance. Greece will seek to reach an agreement within the Council on this dossier during its Presidency.
The Council agreed a mandate for the Commission to open discussions with Brazil to secure an EU Comprehensive Air Service Agreement. The Commission stressed the importance of securing a positive outcome from the forthcoming discussions, especially given the rapid development of Brazil and the opportunities presented by the World Cup and Olympics that would take place over the next few years.
Under any other business, the Commission reported on the latest developments on Aviation Emissions Trading noting that although the revised Commission proposal was legally sound, it had not been received well at international level due to its inconsistencies with the outcome of the ICAO Assembly in October.
I commented that our primary concern should be to agree a global market based measure (MBM) in ICAO, and I raised concerns that a negative reaction to the EU ETS at international level could jeopardise progress in ICAO. I therefore agreed with others, who supported the extension of the 2013 intra-European ETS to 2020 with a review in 2016 which could assess progress and make any appropriate amendments to the ETS.
The Commission suggested that comments made by transport ministers should be forwarded to their environment colleagues who would be meeting on 13 December. The Commission felt that this needed to be resolved at national government level and the threat of a trade war remained very real. The Presidency concluded that Council take note of the positions expressed.
The Commission presented its information paper on passenger ship safety and called for a constructive and coordinated approach at IMO on this issue. The UK supported the Commission’s aims and would consider a future joint EU submission to the IMO following further discussions at the technical level. The Council took note.
On State Aid - Denmark outlined their concerns with the Commission’s interpretation of the Leipzig-Halle case and the consequences this could have on existing and future infrastructure projects. The Commission confirmed that it had no intention of preventing the development of infrastructure on the grounds of State Aid.
The Commission reported that Galileo and EGNOS programme had become a success story and was moving forward positively. In the Commission’s opinion, there remained no obstacles to the launch of the next satellites which would occur towards the end of 2014.
The Commission updated Council on progress on the Blue Belt initiative. The Council took note.
The incoming Greek Presidency outlined their transport Presidency programme over the next 6 months. They said that maritime transport would be the key element of their Presidency, focussing on progressing the Ports Services Regulation, the Marine Equipment Directive, IMO coordination, Blue Belt and integrated maritime policy. Other priorities included the 4th Railway Package, Shift2Rail, eCall and weights and dimensions for land transport, passenger rights and noise for aviation and cleaner power for transport would be the main focus for horizontal issues. The key dates for their Presidency would be Transport Councils on 14 March in Brussels and 5 to 6 June in Luxembourg. An informal council would be held in Athens on 7 to 8 May.