Mark’s EU Week for Transport 
Welcome to the latest Mark’s Week! This week we analyse three big EU issues and how they impact on the trade, transport and tourism sectors. And we’ll do all that without the waffle! Finally, that all important Song of the Week to lift our spirits! Please do check out my latest vlog for more.

First, we are expecting much more clarity tomorrow afternoon from the European Commission about measures to coordinate the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions for transport, against the backdrop of the increasing tension between some health experts on one hand and industry on the other. In particular, the follow-up to the European roadmap towards lifting coronavirus containment measures will be published, which will include guidance on safe and healthy resumption of passenger transport. A key indicator as to the direction of travel and robustness of the Commission’s response will be in aviation. Will industry’s view that flying without social distancing is safe prevail or that of some health experts that it is not? Or, more likely, will the Commission kick the can down the road?

Second, we heard from Commission Executive Vice President  for a European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, on what the Green Deal means for transport, when he partook in an exchange of views on the matter with the Transport Committee of the European Parliament. He stressed how the action plan to start the sector will be conditional on meeting the Green Deal objectives. Simultaneously, Transport Commissioner Vălean went before the Environment Committee for her own exchange of views. She specifically addressed what the Commission’s plans are for the transport sector in relation to sustainability, and previewed the forthcoming strategy for Sustainable & Smart Mobility: restoring and reshaping European connectivity, due out she said in the second half of the year. A good analysis is here.

Third, the penultimate EU-UK Future Relationship negotiations in the current round begin this week ahead of the end of the all-important June summit, and the 31 June deadline to extend the transition period.  They cover 12 policy areas, the most significant, in my view, are the discussions over the level playing field provisions.  A quick reminder of the UK’s ‘Approach’. and the EU’s draft ‘Agreement’. Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan waded into to the increasingly polarised atmosphere that surrounds the talks by claiming “There is no real sign that our British friends are approaching the negotiations with a plan to succeed. They don’t want to drag the negotiations out into 2021 because they can effectively blame COVID for everything.” Despite this, I still think a deal is the most likely outcome, but it will go to the wire. However, it is increasingly essential that companies now prepare for a no-trade deal or a deal by the end of the year, because either way life will be very different for now if you provide goods or services to the EU, or if you operate in or from Northern Ireland.

So no let up in EU activities, despite COVID19!

That all important Song of the Week, to lift our spirits in these challenging times: 

This week’s song of the week is The Show Must Go On by Queen.

1. European Commission to publish comprehensive transport recovery strategy tomorrow 
Tomorrow, the European Commission will publish a comprehensive strategy to restart and reopen the transport and tourism sectors. The strategy aims to make sure governments reopen for tourism business in a coordinated manner. Part of this strategy, as Euractiv reports, will see the Commission weigh in on the vouchers vs. refund debate, with “a common rulebook for travel vouchers being proposed so that countries can make them as attractive as possible to passengers. A cash refund will remain the de facto option for anyone whose flight is cancelled.” Furthermore, it is expected that “the issue of how to marry hygiene and social-distancing measures with a resumption of transport services is also dealt with in the draft communication, which again calls for a coordinated approach that does not discriminate against any member state.”

2. Green chief less than convincing in exchange of views with TRAN MEPs
Yesterday, Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s Executive Vice President for a European Green Deal, partook in an exchange of views with the TRAN Committee on the role of transport in the European Green Deal. While remaining quite high level, to the disappointment of some MEPs, Timmermans dipped in and out of detailed policy options to both get transport up and running while ensuring it can help achieve the European Green Deal. He agreed that cities need help from the EU to boost public transport, suggesting that the way forward should be more funding from existing sources as well as help launching collective tendering schemes – particularly for electric buses. Questions from MEPs’ sought to address the loss of jobs in the car industry, the lack of infrastructure for electric vehicles, the struggles of the aviation sector in the COVID-19 crisis and the threat of possible additional tax burden by imposing a fuel tax, and the importance of rail transport.

3. Tourism recovery must be prioritised according to S&D 
Yesterday, S&D Group leaders, including the S&D Transport Coordinator, Johan Danielsson MEP, and Transport Spokesperson, Istvan Ujhelyi MEP, sent a letter to to the President of the Commission, the Council, and the Croatian Presidency stressing that the tourism and travel sector needs immediate financial support in order to avoid bankruptcy. The letter floats the idea of a European Travel Guarantee Fund that would “secure the financial liquidity of the aviation and tourism sector”. The letters also calls for the creation of a European Tourism Certification and a European Communication Campaign for Tourism in order to help the sector get back to business as usual and to restore consumer confidence in the sector.

4. ENVI Committee exchange of views with Commissioner Valean
Yesterday, the TRAN Committee will meet (video link here) and will have an exchange of views with Transport Commissioner Adina Valean on the Commission’s response to the COVID-19 crisis in the transport sector. The headlines from her exchange of views were that she stated that EU governments were not required to apply green conditions to financial rescue packages they grant companies hit by the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, and that the UN aviation agency’s planned scheme for offsetting emissions from international flights will supplement, not replace, the European Union’s carbon market.

5. Micromobility solutions on the rise
In news that sees what the future of our mobility may look like, Uber, last week, led an investment round worth $170m in scooter firm Lime. The deal will see Uber fold its own Jump e-bike and scooter services into Lime’s operations and greater integration between their apps. It probably makes Lime the biggest micro-mobility company in the world.

6. Will COVID-19 derail the European Commission’s climate agenda?
UKTiE Deputy Coordinator Ryan Hunter has written a  blog on whether the current COVID-19 crisis will derail the European Commission’s climate agenda. With the COVID-19 crisis taking hold all over Europe and the rest of the world, and it understandably becoming the European Commission top priority, there are questions being asked about the European Commission’s ability to deliver on the ambitious climate agenda present in its Work Programme for 2020. Does it have enough bandwidth, or will it be derailed?

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

  • 28 May 2020 – Next meeting of the TRAN Committee (tbc).
  • June 2020 – First High Level EU-UK Conference.
  • 18-19 June 2020 – European Council summit.
  • 1 July 2020 – Deadline for extension of the transition period.
  • 15-16 October 2020 – European Council summit.
  • 10-11 December 2020 – European Council summit.
  • 31 December 2020 – End of current Multi Annual Financial Framework.
  • 31 December 2020 – End of Transition Period (tbc).
Mark Watts
UK transport in Europe (UKTiE)
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