By Mathieu Grosch - 12th October 2012
By joining forces on a regional, national and European level to form a single European transport area, the EU will be accepted as a powerful and serious negotiating partner on an international level
The EU will become a more powerful and efficient trading partner for the world if member states can come together to form a unified European transport system, argues Mathieu Grosch
The transport sector is of paramount global importance, especially due to the international challenges in sea and air transport. Therefore, the agreement to work together and collaborate on a European and international level are essential. In certain areas of transport policy there is a clear need to go beyond the exchange of best practice and design common rules.
But how do rules made at European Union level and at a global level relate to each other? There are different situations that have to be distinguished.
Due to the international dimension of the maritime sector, environmental and safety standards are developed by entities such as the international maritime organisation. Therefore, the first situation relates to cases in which European legislation takes precedence over international legislation. The minimum level of training of seafarers in the maritime sector is just one example. Hereby, the alignment with international rules is the main objective of the European legislation and would be the ideal case for progress.
The second is not such an ideal case, in which European environmental standards are in conflict with the agreements concluded at international level. This is a case concerning the rule on the maximum level of sulphur permitted for fuels used in the maritime transport shipping sector.
The European directive took over international agreements. The problem is that it makes a distinction between different European areas, because ships operating in so called sulphur emission control areas within the North Sea, Baltic Sea and the English Channel have to respect tighter limits than the rest of the EU. This creates different conditions for the north and south of Europe and therefore interferes with the European approach to harmonisation. Thus, in some cases, the application of international standards results in distortive situations in Europe.
The third situation includes cases in which there are ideas at both European and international levels. However, the EU, in the absence of international legislation and after having negotiations at a global level, creates European legislation. An example of this is the emissions trading scheme (ETS).
The EU included all flights into or out of the EU in the ETS in order to progress on existing climate challenges that urgently need solutions. The international reaction was a strong opposition to this.
Europe should not give in to threats from third countries in order to avoid a step backwards on environmental policy. In this case, a worldwide solution is welcomed, but it has to be in accordance with European targets and without isolating the EU from the rest of the world.
The EU needs a coherent approach, and therefore must discontinue bilateral air agreements between member states and third countries. They weaken the EU’s position in several major areas. An example is the situation of cabotage in EU and US air traffic. This means EU airlines are not allowed to provide any air services in the domestic market of the US.
But US airlines are allowed to do inner European flights based on bilateral agreements that they concluded with different European countries. International agreements are only useful and efficient if they are concluded between the EU and third countries and based on reciprocity.
This is important in order to keep the EU’s credibility as a global partner and to avoid its isolation at international level and its dependency on non European products.
To ensure the global role of the EU, research and innovation have to be enhanced. Intelligent, interoperable, linked systems like SESAR, Galileo, ERTMS, ITS and even the creation of transport vehicles and tools like digital tachographs, play an important role in this context. They promote the EU’s status as a centre for production and research. Regarding the quantity, Asia, south-east-Asia and South America have leading roles, so Europe has to keep quality as its trump card.
However, that will only be possible if an agreement on harmonisation and standardisation across the 27 EU member states is reached and then successfully implemented. The EU has to speak with a single voice. Member states have to avoid a policy based on exclusively national interests.
Concerning European transport policy, this means that member states have to strive for the realisation of the single European transport area. By joining forces at a regional, national and European level to form a single European transport area, the EU will be accepted as a powerful and serious negotiating partner at an international level.
It is not a matter of enforcing Europe’s environmental, social and safety standards on a global level, but instead developing international awareness of the fact that Europe plays a pioneering role and that a single international transport area may well be a vision for the future, but is nonetheless desirable and at the same time the only way for the transport sector to cope with international economic challenges.
Mathieu Grosch is a member of parliament's transport and tourism committee