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Foundation World / Talking points / Article

Is the EU losing credibility on its transport policy
Europe’s grand project to make transport sustainable in the long run is simply being abandoned, warns the Parliament’s transport committee vice-president Gilles Savary.

French MEP Gilles Savary – the Parliament’s transport committee vice – could not be more outspoken about his frustrations regarding Europe’s sustainable transport policy. He says the 2001 white paper, initially intended to herald a “great turning point” for the EU’s transport policy is a miracle still waiting to happen. In an interview with EurActiv website he says:

“Everything that was being announced in the white paper on transport – which was a remarkable and very courageous analysis – is being contradicted. The dynamic today is essentially road-based.”

“There was great hope and a certain amount of respect for the work done by [Commissioner] Palacio,” recalls Savary when thinking back to 2001. But now he says even the political ambitions have been toned down.

Eurovignette, a proposal to charge trucks on Europe’s motorways to finance cleaner alternatives such as rail or maritime transport, is currently stalled in Council due to disagreement between member states over how the money collected should be used.

Now, after months of negotiations, Savary points out that the directive’s original purpose to finance alternative modes of transport has simply been forgotten along the way. Palacio, he says, bowed to road lobby pressures at home ahead of the Spanish elections.

According to Savary, as it stands today, Eurovignette is “first and foremost, a road charging tool designed to finance road transport. That is its essential philosophy. And only very incidentally is it a tool to finance alternative modes of transport in border or sensitive regions”. If voted as it is, he says Europe’s transport policy will suffer “a great loss of credibility”.

Asked about his impression concerning the new EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot, and his pledge to make progress on the Eurovignette, he said: “[I] have the feeling that M. Barrot reads his notes, that he is not autonomous. He has not opened new ways forward on ongoing dossiers. Today, it is the Commission services which are behind the steering wheel”.

When asked about the current rail liberalisation process, Savary is equally pessimistic: “I have the impression of being completely manipulated.”

Taking his cue from the REACH proposal to reform the EU chemicals policy, Savary has called for an impact assessment study to be made on rail liberalisation. But his calls have so far been rejected by the Commission.

According to Savary, liberalisation will lead to small companies in central Europe being taken over by Germany’s Deutsche Bahn and France’s SNCF with heavy consequences on jobs.

“I don’t accept the way that the Commission is forcing the issue with such heavy consequences and without the slightest assessment.”