Mark’s EU Week for Transport 

The anguish and horror facing the people of Ukraine are uppermost in our thoughts and in our hearts as the war in Ukraine rages on, the humanitarian situation deteriorates and the impact on neighbouring countries, and indeed the entire world, grows each day.

Everything we hold dear, not least the fragile peace in Europe that has held since 1945, albeit with some notable exceptions like the war in former Yugoslavia, is under threat. And we’ve certainly witnessed nothing on this scale, and certainly nothing as geo-politically threatening to the entire rules-based international order.

Transport has already been severely impacted by this crisis, not least because of the tide of humanity fleeing Ukraine, but also because of cancellations, re-routing, and disruption to passenger and trade routes.

And that’s before the economic impact of sanctions, shortages and oil and gas price hikes really kick in. We are about to witness the biggest challenge faced by economies, our societies, and therefore the transport sector since the Second World War.  Because the economic impact will affect every aspect of life, from the cost of labour to the supply of basic foodstuffs. And let’s be honest and realistic – not only do we have to move away from an over-reliance on Russian oil and gas quicker than we had planned, but we may also have no choice, if, as is threatened, the Russian taps are turned down, or even off. With this in mind, the European Commission will today publish its RePower EU strategy which will seek to pave the way for diversification away from Russian energy sources, namely gas.

We may feel individually and collectively helpless in the face of such an assault on Ukraine, on the rules-based international order, on our economy and society, and on our senses. But we must act, act decisively, and act collectively.

In particular transport, which is one of the fastest growing consumers of fossil fuel, needs to press on with its mission to reach zero carbon, sooner rather than later. Digitalisation must be stepped up to make that transition more efficient and accessible, and active and collective travel must be prioritised.

Above all we need to work ever closer together to achieve this mission.

An UKTiE delegation will be visiting Brussels on 21 and 22 March to meet our friends, neighbours, and allies to strengthen our collective resolve to address these challenges. Do let me know if you wish to join us. 

Finally, the song of the week has to be ‘Imagine‘ by John Lennon.

1. Executive Vice President for a European Green Deal Frans Timmermans addresses the impact of the war in Ukraine on the EU’s energy and climate policies 
This week, EVP Timmermans held an exchange of views with ENVI and ITRE MEPs on the impact of the war on Ukraine on the EU’s energy and climate policies. EVP Timmermans opening address can be read here. Overall, in his opening address and in other interventions, it is clear that the Commission’s perspective is that there is a need for greater flexibility and a need for compromise in the face of diversification from Russian gas. Timmermans has also this week said that that there can be no taboos any longer, referring primarily to nuclear and coal, and this sentiment was clearly echoed last night in his interventions. He knows that all sectors are at different starting points and that we are not talking about overnight changes.

Overall, MEPs provided a clear indication that there were tough choices to be made in the short term in order to allow the EU to diversify from Russian gas, and they asked the Commission to provide clear and concrete ways to do this in their Communication on Energy Prices (also being called the RePower EU strategy which was published yesterday). It is clear that the feeling is the EU must put further focus on energy security, interconnections, and must push on with the European Green Deal, potentially increasing ambitions where possible to speed up our energy transition. The RePowerEU strategy was published yesterday which proposes an outline of a plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030, starting with gas, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

2. The IPCC report on the impacts, adaptation and vulnerabilities related to climate change
The most recent report from the IPCC highlighted the impact of climate change on supply chains and key infrastructure. The cost of maintenance and reconstruction of urban infrastructure, including building, transportation and energy will increase with global warming. Extreme weather will, according to the report, drive up prices for essential goods as the world warms beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial era.

3. EU extends COVID-19 support measures for the railway sector 
The EU has extended the possibility for Member States to reduce, waive or defer the payment of rail infrastructure charges until 30 June 2022. Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean said that “extending the possibility for Member States to support the rail sector will help ensure the economic recovery of rail”.

4. Commission public consultation on the Combined Transport Directive
The Commission has launched a consultation on the Combined Transport Directive and will welcome submissions until 30 May 2022 on sustainable transport revision. The Combined Transport directive supports the shift from road freight to lower emission transport modes such as inland waterways, maritime transport and rail. In light of the European Green Deal’s calls for higher ambition the initiative will review which transport operations should be supported and which support measures would be most effective in this regard.

5. War in Ukraine causes chaos for global shipping industry
The two largest shipping container operators groups Maersk & MSC suspended cargo bookings to and from Russia. Knock on effects can be seen in the hundreds of vessels being trapped at ports, cargo being derailed and freight rates surging. While the UK has banned Russian vessels from entering UK ports, a similar move has not yet been taken by the EU.

6. The price of oil soars – at a record high not seen since 2008, the price of oil is now at $130 a barrel. The surge in price has come amid uncertainty in the energy market as the EU tries to diversify its supply and ‘de-Russify’ its dependence on energy supply.  EU Commission President Ursela Von Der Leyn has been meeting European leaders such as Pedro Sánchez of Spain and Mario Draghi of Italy to discuss diversifying suppliers and switching to LNG and pipeline gas. This comes at a time when European households and businesses are feeling the crunch from increasing electricity prices. Across the pond, Nancy Pelosi has backed a proposal for the US to follow the EU and ban Russian oil. This would be a mostly symbolic move as Russian oil represents on average less than 2% of all US oil imports.

7. EU rail companies offer free travel to refugees fleeing Ukraine – according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine in the first 11 days of the war. Passengers with a Ukranian passport or ID card will be exempt from rail ticket charges in Poland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Denmark and Belgium. Henrik Hololei, the head of the EU’s transport directorate, called the railway companies’ actions “real European solidarity in action”.  The move comes as the EU granted Ukranian refugees a temporary protection status in Europe for a period of 1 year.

8. A grounding halt to Russian air travel – the EU has implemented a complete closure of EU skies to Russia and any aircraft “owned, chartered, or otherwise controlled by a Russian legal or natural person”.

9. Europe’s first fully autonomous bus hit the road in France – the vehicle carries passengers on roughly 600m route at a medical campus in Toulouse. This pas en avant comes at a time when autonomous driving is being legislated for at European level.

10. UKTiE has also put together the latest timetable of key transport and supply chain developments in Europe. We will keep this up to date as the process develops:

  • 10 March 2022: Comitology Committee on alternative fuels infrastructure directive.
  • 11 March 2022: Comitology Committee on road transport.
  • 14-15 March 2022: Next TRAN Committee meetings.
  • 14-15 March 2022: Next ENVI Committee meeting.
  • 21-22 March 2022: UKTiE members visit to Brussels.
  • 2 June 2022: Next Transport Council.

Other developments

11. The Commission is currently running a public consultation on market access legislation in inland waterway transport. The public consultation will assess whether the legislation which was adopted in the 1960s-1990s is still fit for purpose. Feedback must be submitted before 11 March 2022.

12. The Commission is also running a public consultation on a proposal for a regulation around the review of CO2 emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles. Feedback must be submitted before 14 March 2022.

13. The Commission is running a public consultation on the proposed update to State aid rules for the rail sector. The initiative aims to fully align the rules with key EU priorities and adapt to the sector’s needs so it can grow and become more competitive. Feedback must be submitted before 16 March 2022.

Mark Watts
UK Transport in Europe (UKTiE)
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