Politics & Economics / Transport

Three more transport-related files ready for trilogues. The lack of ambition on railway infrastructure vexes the Commission

June 2024
By Editorial Staff

The last EU Transport Council meeting under the Belgian presidency semester “was a less of a complicated one”, as stated in a press conference by the Belgian deputy prime minister responsible for mobility, George Gilkinet. He motivated this assessment based on “the many legislative files that the presidency was able to bring forth in the past months”.

In Luxembourg, the 27 EU ministers succeeded in adopting a general approach on a new proposed regulation on the use of railway infrastructure capacity in the single European railway area. The bill was tabled by the European Commission as part of the greening freight legislative package together with proposals on a harmonised system to count EU emissions, on maximum weights and dimensions for heavy-duty vehicles, and the revision of the combined transport directive.

While designed to create a more efficient management of rail infrastructure capacity and traffic, the proposal has the objective of enabling more effective capacity management procedures and introducing more effective mechanisms for coordination between stakeholders, in particular across borders. The Council preserved the main element of the Commission initiative, namely defining better planning and allocation processes and building on the industry-led “timetable redesign” project. The EU executive is frowning on the bigger flexibility accorded to Member States in the text adopted on the definition of general objectives and policy orientations for rail capacity management. This approach could undermine the harmonisation the EU executive is eager to see at the EU level. The rounds of trilogues to be kicked off after the new European Parliament takes office will be the place for the Commission to make its voice heard before an agreement on a final text is reached.

Ministers also adopted a negotiating position on a proposal to revise the 2005 directive on harmonised river information systems (RIS). The proposed directive aims to increase the safety, efficiency, and environmental friendliness of inland waterway transport (IWT). “With the deployment of RIS being slow and fragmented, the revised directive aims to address the problems identified by ensuring RIS data availability and harmonised standards, facilitating the integration of IWT into the multimodal chain, ensuring greater uptake and interoperability of digital solutions, and addressing data protection concerns”, as an information note reads.

The changes in the European Commission proposal suggested by the Council relate primarily to the scope of the directive, where according to Member States it should be applied in inland waterways and inland ports which are part of the trans-European transport network (Ten-T). The complaint handling mechanism was taken out of the text because it was considered too prescriptive. The transposition deadline was extended from 1 to 3 years after the entry into force of the amended directive.

Another vote led to the adoption of a negotiating position on the new European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) regulation. It updates the EMSA mandate to empower it with new tasks in pollution prevention and response, decarbonization, digitalization, surveillance and maritime awareness. In the version of the regulation the EU Council voted the role of EMSA is focused on core tasks without excluding that it takes on additional tasks “if and when considered necessary and appropriate by Member States. The weight of Member States in the governance has been strengthened and rights and obligations for them, the budgetary implications included, “should always be taken into account”.

A text of conclusions on a European Court of Auditors (ECA) report on the “zero road victims by 2050” target was also agreed by ministers. ECA underlines that the time is right for a policy evaluation to enable the continuous improvement of road safety and reach the ambitious targets of halving road fatalities and serious injuries by 2030 (compared to 2019).

The text highlights the importance of investing in high-quality, resilient, and sustainable road infrastructure, and the related road safety planning obligations, as well as of interconnectivity and interoperability of data related to traffic to improve road safety management. The differences in methods, practices and national characteristics between Member States on key performance indicators for road safety are considered a valuable source “of mutual learning and exchange of best practices. Initiatives “do not depend on a prior full harmonisation of methods”, the text reads.