I attended the first Transport Council under the Greek Presidency (the Presidency) in Brussels on Friday 14 March.
The Council reached a general approach on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Union Agency for Railways. There was strong member state support for the Presidency text - it was seen as a key step towards breaking down barriers to a single market and supporting the efficiency, transparency and increased competitiveness of the European rail industry. This important piece of legislation completes the techical pillar of the fourth railway package and will help to further develop the single European rail area. The Commission called on the council to begin discussions on the remaining market opening and governance pillars to retain the ‘package’ concept of the fourth railway package. I strongly supported this position.
There was a positive discussion on a proposal for a Council regulation establishing the Shift2Rail joint undertaking which resulted in the adoption of the Council position on the proposal. The joint undertaking would lead to the development of a coordinated approach to research and innovation in the rail sector, enhance the competitiveness of the EU rail sector and further support the completion of the single European rail area.
A wide-ranging policy debate was held on the Commission communication entitled ‘Together towards a competitive and resource-efficient urban mobility (PDF, 100KB)’. While there were varying views on funding options, there was unanimous support from member states for the Commission’s plans in so far as they remain flexible and respect the principle of subsidiarity. The Commission confirmed that it had no plans for legislative action in this area. I welcomed the communication which provides a helpful framework for urban mobility planning and highlighted that the UK already met most of its objectives.
Under any other business, the Presidency provided information on three legislative proposals. Firstly, on the political agreement that was reached on a proposal for a regulation on the establishment of rules and procedures with regard to the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at Union airports. This was the first political agreement reached on the airports package under the Greek Presidency. The European Parliament plenary vote is scheduled to take place in April. Secondly, on their achievement on a proposal for a regulation on community-fleet capacity policy to promote inland waterway transport. This regulation does not apply to the UK as we have no inland waterways which meet the criteria for inclusion. Finally, the Presidency informed member states that an agreement was within reach on a proposal for a directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure (clean power).
Also under any other business, France supported by Germany and Czech Republic urged member states to commence discussions on how best to prepare for and exploit the benefits of using the European Galileo system in civil aviation by 2025. The Commission provided a brief summary on the successful outcome of the EU-ASEAN Aviation Summit held in Singapore on 11 to 12 February. Estonia presented a proposal on state aid for rescuing and restructuring non-financial undertakings in difficulty.
I used the opportunity of my attendance to hold bilateral discussions with Transport Secretaries from Greece, Italy and Germany.