Mark’s EU Week for Transport 
December 12th, mark your calendars as the UK heads into (yet another) General Election. This election promises much, both in terms of clarity on Brexit and moving beyond the new norm of uncertainty that has prevailed over UK politics since the Brexit referendum. However, this is exactly what we believed would happen in 2017. One of the most likely outcomes will be an increasingly polarised Parliament, one that sees the Brexit ‘middle-grounders’ struggle to keep their seats. We will certainly need to keep an eye out for the party manifestos to see what Brexit promises end up making the final cut for the election campaigns, which officially start this week. 

I once wrote that we should not confuse motion with progress, and I feel that this applies as much for the next few weeks than ever before. A lot will be said, a lot will be promised, and most of it will remain undeliverable in the face of an EU that will refuse to budge further on the current version of the Withdrawal Agreement. Why is this the case? Brexit remains a past issue for the EU, Task Force 50 is being effectively disbanded (see Sabine Weyand’s new job) and being replaced by the new Barnier-led Task Force UK that has been created, primarily, to deal with the future EU-UK relationship. While the UK political landscape has been prone to thinking of the Brexit negotiations being the end of the line but this is merely the beginning of a new phase where we will construct a whole new relationship with the EU.

This will indeed be the topic of a keynote intervention that I will be making later this week at the Railway Industry Association’s Annual Conference. I will seek to emphasise that we must not cast our attention away from the EU’s regulatory agenda in both transport and environment as we will remain, to some degree, aligned to the existing and future rules that are created. I will explain that the structure of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration lays out regulatory alignment and a Joint Committee structure that will, in all likelihood, lead to continued alignment to most new EU regulations. 

This week’s song of the week, is Safe European Home by The Clash.

1. EU officials mull tax on aviation jet fuel
Euractiv reports that EU officials are mulling over whether to introduce a tax on jet fuel in aviation in order to help them tackle aviation emissions. This has, not surprisingly, proven unpopular to aviation interest group Airlines4Europe (A4E) who have published an open letter written by Caroline Nagtegaal (Renew Europe, Netherlands) calling for such a levy to be put on hold until the completion of the Single European Sky is completed. 

2. New Romanian government expected this week, (Transport) Commissioner candidate to follow
Last week saw a war of words between Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and caretaker Prime Minister Viorica Dancila over the latter’s decision to nominate yet another new Commissioner candidate, former Foreign Minister Victor Negrescu. However, European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen seems to have rejected this new nominee, calling for all major parties in Romanian to come together (read: get a grip) and agree on a government that can then propose a new candidate. It is expected that a new government led by Ludovic Orban (EPP) faces a confidence vote in Parliament today. Should he survive this, then a new government should be up and running this week and a new Commission nominee proposed to Ursula von der Leyen. This candidate, expected to be given the Transport portfolio, is expected to be MEP Siegfried Muresan.

3. Transport Commissioner Bulc to reflect on her mandate in speech later this month
Violeta Bulc, Transport Commissioner, will deliver a keynote address at a railway summit in India later this month where she will present her vision for transport planning in the keynote address ‘Rail as the backbone of an integrated multimodal transport system’ during the meeting of urban rail transport leaders, hosted with support from the International Union of Railways (UIC). It is expected that Bulc will also reflect on the last 5 years of her mandate.

4. TRAN Committee meeting – 6 November
This week, the TRAN Committee will discuss the Mobility Package social dimension, particularly in respect to road haulage industry (posted workers, cabotage and driver hours) which have all proven to be sources of contention between the Western and Eastern EU Member States. This discussion will be conducted in private but information will undoubtedly leak by the end of this week and we will report on this in our next News & Views. The Committee will also be discussing another contentious topic, the Connecting Europe Facility and, in particular, will hear a presentation from the European Commission on the results of the 2019 CEF transport call, this call aimed at project proposals for improving the TEN-T comprehensive network and reducing rail freight noise. The 39 selected projects receive an EU co-funding worth € 117 million from the Connecting Europe Facility. The European Commission also recently announced a new round of funding (€1.4bn) for sustainable transport projects. 

5EU gets serious on Belt and Road initiative?
Following UKTiE Coordinator Mark Watts’ new blog and vlog this on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which highlighted the big debate  over how Europe should respond. The Financial Times now reports that later this week the EU’s own Belt and Road will be revealed later this week when a ‘Wise Persons’ group tasked with finding some answers present their findings to EU27 ambassadors and finance ministers. The experts have been asked to examine whether the EU’s two major lenders — the European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) — are fit for purpose to serve as Europe’s 21st-century international development bank.

6. UKTiE has also put together the latest timetable for Brexit. We will keep this up to date as the process develops:

  • 29 March 2017 – A50 triggered.
  • 5 April 2017 – European Parliament adopted Brexit guidelines.
  • 22 May 2017 – Brexit negotiating directives approved by Council.
  • 19 June 2017 –  Negotiations formally began.
  • 23 March 2018– European Council agreed guidelines on the future trading relationship.
  • 23-26 May 2019 – European Parliament election.
  • 6 November 2019 – Next TRAN Committee Meeting
  • 6-7 November 2019 – Next ENVI Committee Meetings
  • 01 December 2019 – Start of new European Commission mandate. (tbc)
  • 12 December 2019  – UK General Election.
  • 31 January 2019 – The UK will formally leave the EU. (tbc)
  • 31 December 2020 – End of Transition Period (tbc).
Mark Watts
UK transport in Europe (UKTiE)
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