I attended the second Transport Council under the Italian Presidency (the Presidency) in Brussels on Wednesday 3 December 2014.
The first item under consideration was on TEN-T, where the Presidency opened proceedings by outlining the link between the council conclusions and both the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 package and the launch of the Juncker investment package. Former Commissioner Christopherson gave an overview of his interim report which he thought could provide transport projects for support from the Juncker package which is seeking to leverage investment from the private sector. Member states expressed their support for the council conclusions which were adopted. Commissioner Bulc welcomed the conclusions and asked for transport to be the subject of the Spring European Council next year and to be at the heart of the Europe2020 strategy.
However the council’s proceedings were dominated by discussions on the proposed general approaches on the 2 legislative proposals under Single European Sky (SES) II+. The general approach on the SES related amendments to the EASA Regulation was agreed without comment and the related commission declaration on the applicability of the EASA Regulation to Gibraltar Airport was accepted.
On the SES recast, I supported the Presidency’s ambition of reaching a general approach on the condition that it respected in full the EU treaties and included Gibraltar Airport within scope. Spain sought the exclusion of Gibraltar Airport. In an astonishing move, the Presidency proposed (i) to put in square brackets the current text in Article 1, paragraph 5 which notes that the application of the regulation is without prejudice to the respective legal positions of the UK and Spain with regard to the dispute over sovereignty over the territory in which the airport is situated and (ii) to add a footnote stating that “the question on how to reflect the Gibraltar issue in the text is awaiting the outcome of discussions between Spain and UK”. I objected in the strongest possible terms, emphasising that Gibraltar was included in the current SES framework, that any exclusion of Gibraltar was unjustifiable under the treaties and that I could not accept any proposal that did not make clear that Gibraltar was within scope.
At my request, the council legal service opined that the council’s agreement on the aviation content amounted to a general approach, but the consequence of the part not agreed by all member states, that is the part concerning Gibraltar, resulted in the general approach being partial.
Over-riding my protest and the opinion of the council legal service, the commission welcomed the Presidency’s proposal, and the Presidency concluded that a general approach had been reached. I left the council in protest at what was a completely unacceptable situation. The government is clear that EU aviation legislation applies to Gibraltar as is clearly set out in the EU Treaties. We will continue to defend the inclusion of Gibraltar in EU aviation legislation. We reserve our position on the lawfulness of any other outcome and on our response, including the possibility of pursuing legal proceedings.
Following the council, the Foreign Secretary spoke to his Italian counterpart last week to express our view that the dossier could not proceed to the next stage – discussions with the European Parliament – until the question of application to Gibraltar had been resolved. I am pleased to report that the Italian Foreign Minister gave his assurance that the Italian presidency would not seek to do this.
Although I was not present for the remainder of the council, the UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU continued to occupy the UK seat. I can report that the following discussions also took place.
On Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCWF), the commission restated its position with regards to the reservation considering that this was the only legally sound approach. One member state intervened to support the council decision but indicated that they would make a declaration in respect of the legal base. The Presidency’s progress report on the Fourth Railway Package was broadly welcomed by member states but led to an echoing of comments made by member states in October. Several member states made clear that for them the technical pillar remained the priority. The Presidency and commission were clear that the technical pillar on its own was not enough and that the package should stay together. Many member states remained sceptical about mandatory competitive tendering and called for more flexibility on direct award provisions. Latvia stated the Fourth Railway Package would be a priority for their forthcoming Presidency. The commission took on board member state comments and looked forward to progressing work under the Latvian Presidency. In addition, a general approach was reached on the repeal of Regulation 1192/69 on common rules for the normalisation of the accounts of railway undertakings, a welcome simplification measure.
Under any other business, the Presidency informed council about the EASA event on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) that recently took place in Rome which the Presidency hoped would serve as a useful basis to continue discussions under the Latvian Presidency. Commissioner Bienkowska updated council on Galileo and EGNOS. She made very clear she was committed to ensuring the success of the space sector, that transport was a key user underpinning the success of EGNOS and Galileo and looked to member states to continue their support.
Lithuania drew council’s attention to their recent experience of detailed inspections of Lithuanian registered vehicles at the Russian border and the negative impact this was having on the Lithuanian haulage sector. They called on the commission and other member states to agree a common solution to help resolve the situation. The commission took note although recognised the limited ability for action in the wider political context.
Finally, Latvia set out the priorities for their Presidency. The Fourth Railway Package would be one of their main priorities. On road, Latvia recognised the importance of weights and dimensions and cross-border enforcement files and indicated that the review of the commission’s road safety strategy would be the subject of a policy debate. Latvia was explicitly clear that they would only continue work on SES II+ and airport slots if there was a consensus among member states. They also did not rule out the possibility of continuing work on Air Passenger Rights. Finally, the incoming Presidency would focus on technical requirements for inland waterways and would progress negotiations on the Ports Services Regulation subject to progress made in the European Parliament. Latvia would hold 3 high-level events in Riga on EU and Asia transport links, RPAS and TEN-T corridors.