Mark’s EU Week for Transport 
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Welcome to Mark’s Week! First, those Brexit talks are about to intensify ‘to create the most conducive conditions for concluding and ratifying a deal before the end of 2020’. David Frost and a team of about 20 UK officials will be make the journey to Brussels next week for the first face to face round of negotiations, with Michel Barnier and his team, since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Further rounds will alternate between London & Brussels, in July, August and in September, with specialised sessions and in more restricted formats. However, privately expectations are not high, not so much on the chances of securing a deal, that’s doable, but more on the depth and scope of the deal.  We’re being told that the difference between a trade deal and no trade deal is small compared to the difference between the current arrangements and either scenario. In other words, because of leaving the Customs Union and Single Market on 1 January, with or without a deal, companies and organisations will experience profound changes, and the time to prepare is now. We have prepared a Risk Register if you want help checking you are ready.

Second, COVID-19 is forcing us all to revaluate much public policy, particularly in the field of economics, public health and pandemic preparedness. But we’re also witnessing a re-evaluation in transport. Indeed, I would say it’s not just a re-evaluation it is a revolution. Within 10 years transport (and much of the tourism industry) will have changed beyond recognition. And that’s because COVID-19 is turbo charging trends that were already apparent: carbon neutrality, digitalisation and inclusivity.  And those companies and organisations that wish to thrive will have to adapt. The European Commission are currently preparing a series of blueprints to provide the framework for that revolution. One is the Strategy on Sustainable and Smart Mobility, which will guide us towards a transport sector that is fit for a clean, digital, modern and fair economy.  It will be published in Q4. Another is a Strategy for the European Commission’s favoured fuel, hydrogen, due out on the 8th July. That’s going to be the EU’s new big idea! More on that next time.

Third, and finally the big row this year will not be Brexit, but the budget. Or as it is called here in Brussels, the Multi-Annual Financial Framework. The proposal is for a new Next Generation EU budget of €750 billion, as well as targeted reinforcements to the long-term EU budget for 2021-2027 will bring the total financial firepower of the EU budget to €1.85 trillion. Although the transport fussed Connecting Europe Facility is awarded a Billion plus Euro boost, the Director-General of DG MOVE, Henrik Hololei, who was quizzed recently by the Transport Committee of the European Parliament, said much of that additional money was potentially up for grabs. Of course, that combined with a new policy framework and some big ideas, will further propel the transport revolution.

And the all  important song of the Week! To lift our spirits we’ve chosen that great song: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

1. Intensification of Brexit negotiations: agreement in sight or more of the same?
Over the course of the coming month, Brexit negotiations will enter an ‘intensification period’ as the UK and the EU came to terms with there being no extension to the transition period. Despite tensions persisting between the two sides, there has been a noted shift in mood following the high level summit between Boris Johnson and EU leaders. The talks are now moving into the sensitive areas where compromises will unlock roadblocks in the discussion. Although the mood between EU leaders and the UK has shifted into a more productive track, the Member State capitals have insisted on being increasingly kept in the loop as regards any compromises being put on the table or agreed to by the EU.

2. European Commission ambitions turbo charged in COVID recovery
The COVID-19 recovery has provided the European Commission with a chance to not only maintain its ambitions but, in some big picture areas, turbo charge its existing ambitions. We will see this through the recovery funds being allocated to more sustainable practices, but we will also see things such as the Strategy on Sustainable and Smart Mobility, as well as the much discussed Hydrogen Strategy, pave the way for a cleaner alternative fuel environment for transport, an industry that the Commission sees as a climate laggard. This will add to existing work on the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Directive and the Energy Taxation Directive, which will all play their part towards achieving a decarbonised transport sector. These files should see their sustainability chapters being beefed up due to strong demand for the COVID recovery to be a green recovery and not simply business as usual.

3. EU budget negotiations
Along with a proposed recovery fund, the European Commission also proposed a revamped Multi-Annual Financial Framework, the EU’s budget. The MFF had been discussed for months before the COVID-19 crisis, however, the pandemic has given the Commission cause to increase their budget proposal far beyond what was being discussed by Member States before March. Opposition to the increased budget is being led by the so-called ‘frugal four’- Austra, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden. The budget, due to enter into force at the start of next year, still needs to be agreed by Member States that don’t seem any closer in June to an agreement than they were back in February. The European Council is due to meet in person on July 17-18 to hammer out an agreement, the conclusion of which will be of interest to the transport sector as a hefty chunk of the proposed budget will be awarded to the Connecting Europe Facility.

4. 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?

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

  • 1 July 2020 – Deadline for extension of the transition period.
  • 8 July 2020 – Next meeting of the ENVI Committee
  • 13-14 July 2020 – Next meeting of the TRAN Committee
  • 17-18 July 2020 – European Council Summit.
  • 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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