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Green recovery in the Benelux: can it lead the way in Europe?

The Benelux, once laying the foundation of the European Union as we know it today, still endeavors to be a frontrunner in European cooperation, also in the context of contemporary challenges such as the energy transition through the green recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and digitization. In January of this year, the Benelux Union presented its Joint Work Program for 2021-2024, as well as this year’s priorities under Belgian Presidency of the Benelux Union. As the Benelux Treaty lays down one of its main objectives to be ‘a living laboratory for Europe’, the cross-border cooperation plans for the upcoming years echo this ambition to show the added value that regional cooperation can have for European integration. Consequently, this also offers new opportunities for businesses.

Not surprisingly considering the prominent role of the Green Deal at the EU level, the transition to a more sustainable economy will be one of the three main priorities for the upcoming year under the Belgian Presidency of the Benelux. As Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg consider sustainability to be at the core of their unique economic model, the Benelux will this year launch the ‘Benelux Green Deal’. With the Benelux aiming to inspire the EU in implementing the Green Deal through the introduction of cross-border pilot projects in the field of energy and sustainable mobility, Dr2 Consultants will explore in this article to what extent the Benelux will be able to lead the way in Europe’s green recovery from COVID-19.

Regional cooperation to pave the way to integrated EU energy market

The Benelux Union Annual Plan 2021 details how the ‘Benelux Green Deal’ should become a model to mimic at EU-wide scale. The plan states that the Benelux countries will seek cooperation in their national energy and climate plans (NCEPs) that lay out an energy transition roadmap towards 2030 as mandated by the EU’s Governance of the Energy Union Regulation. More specifically, the Benelux will explore how the NCEPs can feed into the national COVID-19 recovery plans, which should be submitted to the European Commission by 30 April (some Member States announced delays) and should emphasize green recovery.

Hydrogen ambition

The hydrogen market, which has been assigned a central role in the energy transition through the EU Hydrogen Strategy of July last year, is an example of a domain in which the Benelux countries can be a frontrunner. Nowhere else in the EU are countries so physically connected via energy pipelines and is the concentration of energy and carbon-intensive industry so high. Therefore, there are great opportunities in the Benelux to change production processes and energy supply on a relevant scale to decarbonize the energy system.

To exploit the potential and momentum for hydrogen, the Benelux countries signed a ‘Pentalateral’ declaration with Austria, Germany, France and Switzerland in June last year to commit to a joint rollout of hydrogen, with a focus on infrastructure, certification, and common definitions and classification. With the European Commission eyeing an integrated EU energy market through the published EU Energy System Integration Strategy and revision of the TEN-E Regulation, as well as the upcoming revision Renewable Energy Directive II, the Benelux could lead the way in this respect through its planned cooperation in the field of implementing energy integration and offshore renewable energy policies. On top of that, the Benelux countries will strive for a common position for the review of the EU’s Third Energy Package at the end of 2021, in which gaseous energy carriers are expected to become regulated. Together with frontrunner companies the Benelux Union must take the lead and become the starting point of a broader EU rollout.

Subregional integration as blueprint for EU

Without needing the name of ‘enhanced cooperation’ or a ‘multi-speed Europe’, the Benelux Union is acknowledged by the EU treaties as subregional integration, allowing to deepen European integration in some fields. This gives the potential to the three countries to further exploit integration initiatives without ‘competing’ with the EU. On the contrary, as this paragraph shows, the unique position of the Benelux cooperation can serve as a regional blueprint for how a European internal energy market could take shape in the upcoming decades. Investments from the recovery fund into concrete projects for a green recovery could be a start of this deepened Benelux energy cooperation.

Sustainable and smart mobility to connect Benelux border regions

Zero-emission mobility infrastructure

The Benelux Annual Plan also considers sustainable mobility an important element of green recovery, with several sustainable and smart mobility projects connecting the Benelux border regions all the way into North-Rhine Westphalia. These mobility projects could lay the foundation for EU mobility of the future as portrayed in the European Commission’s recently published Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. For example, the Benelux will this year establish a common Benelux-service for the registration of charging point operators for electric vehicles, which fits in the EU’s green ambition to roll out an infrastructure for alternative fuels throughout the EU, amongst others through the upcoming revision of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive (AFID).

Moreover, the Benelux will act as a living lab for mobility by stimulating cross-border infrastructure for zero-emission trucks such as hydrogen-trucks or e-trucks, by starting a pilot project for cross-border hydrogen vessels, and by facilitating applications of the EU’s Intelligent Transport System (ITS) through cross-border smart shipping projects on the inland waterways of the Benelux. In this regard, the Benelux Union could push for more legislative harmonization and become an example of legislative best practice. Involvement in this early stage of policy formulation can offer ample opportunity for companies.

Mobility as a Service

Apart from these green mobility projects, the Benelux can more indirectly contribute to sustainable and smart mobility through multimodality projects such as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), for which the Benelux envisages to be an experimental hub through simulations of the MaaS ecosystem, testing appropriate language, standards, data exchange and payment applications. These cross-border simulations can be a lesson for the EU on how cooperation between transport operators and appropriate policies can ensure MaaS’ rollout throughout the EU, as envisioned in the Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy.

Vision of Dr2 Consultants

At Dr2 Consultants we welcome the ambitious plans of the Benelux Union as we have endeavored in recent years to support businesses in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to become European frontrunners in the fields of sustainability and mobility. We believe that the above-mentioned examples of Benelux projects in the field of energy and sustainable mobility do not necessarily display a higher level of ambition than other EU countries, but the Benelux can, through its regional and cross-border cooperation, effectively showcase how the extremely high European climate ambitions can be effectively implemented in the green recovery of the economy. This makes the Benelux a testing ground for EU policy in the area of sustainability, which can certainly serve as an important steppingstone for an EU-wide implementation of the ambitions from the European Green Deal in the upcoming decades.

If your organization would like to explore what opportunities regional and cross-border cooperation within the Benelux could offer, feel free to contact Dr2 Consultants for advice or visit our Belgian Public Affairs webpage to learn more.

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New European Bauhaus: how will it contribute to the EU’s future construction policies

The New European Bauhaus: what is it and how does it work?

The year 2021 has started with the launch of a new promising initiative from the European Commission: the New European Bauhaus initiative. With the overall objective of helping deliver the European Green Deal, this initiative is a contest financed by EU funds at national and regional level. The award goes to concrete and practical projects that achieve the targets of the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Renovation Wave Strategy.

The aim of those projects is to ensure inclusiveness, design and accessibility of investments at the benefit of the larger community. By means of an open and public platform, everyone can input their own ideas for future ways of living. In an open prize ceremony in Summer 2021, the Commission will award prizes to existing examples that represent the integration of the key values of the initiative, and that may inspire future EU building and construction policies. The five winning projects will be delivered starting from September 2021 and then disseminated from January 2023 onwards to spread the ideas and concepts defining the New European Bauhaus via new projects, networking and sharing of knowledge, in Europe and beyond.

The Circular Economy as the backbone of the New European Bauhaus

The synergy with the Circular Economy Action Plan (March 2020) and the Renovation Wave (October 2020) lays in the design of the new building projects that will be submitted to the New European Bauhaus contest. Those projects can easily bring new business opportunities for the wider range of stakeholders engaged in sustainable construction policies. Dr2 Consultants is of course perfectly placed to assist companies to identify these opportunities.

For instance, the New European Bauhaus will help promote the circularity principles throughout the whole lifecycle of buildings that will be put forward by the new Strategy for a Sustainable Built Environment, expected in 2021. This strategy is entailed in the Circular Economy Action Plan, which envisages to focus on the sectors that use most resources and where the potential for circularity is particularly high, including the construction and buildings sector. Therefore, the Bauhaus Initiative will provide companies with very concrete opportunities to pitch their sustainable ideas at EU level.

“Many architects and other partners in the construction chain have been working for years, with a lot of creativity and innovation power, on ideas and concepts that can increase sustainability and circularity in construction. They do this on the one hand because there is a sore need, and on the other hand because they want to take responsibility. The fact that the New European Bauhaus will now provide a platform to these efforts will mean an extra stimulus. But that alone is not enough. Clients who are very aware of solutions and possibilities – which there are plenty of – often need some extra encouragement to make the right decisions. This could be subsidy, in any shape or form, but at the same time we should not shy away from tightening requirements and regulations.”

Joost Ector
Architect and Managing Partner of Ector Hoogstad Architecten

Concrete examples and opportunities for future policy framing

The European Bauhaus Initiative provides a concrete testing area for new approaches to existing construction and building concepts. Several of the identified projects provide a glimpse into future housing techniques and serve as an impulse to the European Commission for future construction policies. Dr2 Consultants can assist companies in setting standards for future European policies through the Bauhaus Initiative.

Listed below are a few projects submitted to the New European Bauhaus that integrate sustainability with inclusive and better-quality ideas in the building sector. These projects provide great examples of new ideas that will shape the future of European construction policies.

Circular and sustainable housing – A best practice of circular economy and buildings’ energy performance is the creation of a new Slovenian facility hosting offices and laboratories totally made of timber and steel. This facility is equipped with a smart management system that will produce data on the way wood ages in buildings and performs over time. The facility’s highly digitalized and efficient system shows how the construction sector can be concretely innovated, meeting the energy technology targets and zero emission goals of the Renovation Wave strategy as well as the transition to more smart buildings in the EU.

Facility in Slovenia made of timber and steel

New Slovenian facility hosting offices and laboratories totally made of timber and steel.

📸 The Institute / © Source: #nnoRenew CoE

Environmentally friendly and flexible buildings – Another example of how to achieve the EU building performance goals is provided by a project experimented in Bordeaux, where a 100% locally-sourced timber prefabricated construction has showcased the highly technological, social and environmental impact of sustainable and renovation methods. The construction can be transported, mounted and adapted to different sizes. By ensuring an environmentally friendly footprint and a high recyclability of the materials, this solution simultaneously meets two criteria as defined in the New European Bauhaus: the building’s energy performance targets of the Renovation Wave as well as the circularity and recycling goals of the Circular Economy Action Plan.

Proto Habitat – a 1.1 prototype of new and sustainable forms of housing.

📸 Proto-Habitat / © Flavien Menu, Wald.City

From vehicles’ waste into a social benefit – When it comes to end-of-life waste, the automotive sector offers valuable solutions of circularity and energy efficiency. This is the case of an old bus being transformed into a mobile youth centre by the Young Dragons, a public network of youth centres. By recycling waste and at the same time creating a benefit for the social community, this project meets the target of recycling efficiency of end-of-life vehicles that has been set out in the Circular Economy Action Plan.

An upcycled old city bus turned into a mobile youth centre.

📸 Ljuba in Drago / © Ksenja Perko

What can Dr2 Consultants do for you?

Over the last years, Dr2 Consultants has built up a track record in advising a broad range of sustainability clients in navigating the EU ecosystem and identifying the right opportunities for boosting the renovation and technological update of the building sector. Would you like to know more about how your organization can make the most out of the upcoming regulations included in the New European Bauhaus initiative, as well as the Circular Economy Action Plan and Renovation Wave? Feel free to reach out and discuss opportunities with us.

If you are interested in more than just building policies, then check out our European Green Deal Impact Scan.

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Digital euro: its arrival and the impact on the FinTech industry

The European Commission, as part of its ambition to digitalize society, is powering a movement for the digitalisation of finance. With this goal in mind, the European Commission, together with the European Central Bank (ECB), is studying the question of issuing a digital euro. In this article, Dr2 Consultants shares some insights into the background of the digital euro plans and the potential impact on the FinTech industry.

As part of the EU’s efforts towards accelerating the development of a strong European digital finance sector, and taking into account digitalization, emerging innovations in payments provided by the FinTech sector, and the growth of crypto-assets, the European Commission is evaluating, together with the European Central Bank (ECB), the need for and feasibility of issuing a digital euro. Their decision will also be informed by the 8.000 responses to the public consultation that ran between October and January 2021.

The official decision whether to pursue this project will come mid-2021, but its uptake seems inevitable, considering the support for the project at the Commission and at the national level, and in the context of Central Banks from third countries which are also starting to issue their own digital currencies.

Why a digital euro?

The need for a digital euro comes from the increasing digitalization of financial services and is made even more pressing by the rise of crypto-currencies offered by private foreign actors, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic which has accelerated the shift away from cash.

A digital euro would be considered a safer alternative to crypto currencies, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. The European Commission and the ECB have expressed their concerns regarding crypto-currencies because of the volatile aspect of their price, since their value is not intrinsic but based on demand, and because they are mostly issued by foreign actors. On the contrary, the digital euro would be backed by the ECB and by national central banks of Member States, combining the efficiency of a digital payment instrument with the safety of central bank money.

The digital euro would be equivalent to the banknotes and coins we know today, but in a digital form. It would be an electronic form of payment, coming as an additional means to pay next to cash as we know today, and issued and guaranteed by the European Central Bank and national central banks.

What are the key challenges?

The issuing of a digital euro is however not without challenges. The main challenge will be to prevent people from completely abandoning traditional savings accounts in favor of digital wallets, weakening traditional commercial banks of the eurozone. To mitigate this risk, the ECB wants the digital euro to be only a means of payment, and not a form of investment that could compete with other financial instruments. There are also concerns with regards to privacy and security. If the ECB and the Commission decide to go through with the project, the regulatory framework surrounding the digital euro will need to include measures to mitigate those risks. Further consultation with stakeholders will most likely have to take place to further assess the risks and continue to define the various use-cases.

Next steps

Although the decision to pursue a digital euro is not yet official, Dr2 Consultants’ digital team is keeping a close eye on the developments as the EU is already paving the way for it, especially as it tries to regulate and limit the use of crypto currencies within the Single Market. The Commission proposal for a regulatory framework for crypto assets, published in September 2020, puts all significant crypto currencies under the supervision of the European Banking Authority. The ECB is also calling for higher regulation of crypto currencies, and especially of stablecoins (crypto currencies whose value is tied to an outside asset, such a national currency or  gold), as Big Tech such as Facebook aim to launch their own digital coins.

Lear more about our policy monitoring services here.

Potential impact on the FinTech Sector

The digitalization of finance is intrinsically linked to the FinTech sector. The term, a combination of “financial” and “technology”, refers to the use of digital and new technologies to ease or fasten financial operations. Most FinTech firms are start-up firms that have managed to enter a previously closed financial ecosystem. The FinTech industry has been growing rapidly, mainly thanks to an increased need for on-demand and digital finance but also regulatory changes such as the Payment Services Directive 2.

FinTech firms have created and brought on the market a variety of new means of payments and financial services. These innovations are slowly being regulated, either directly through financial policy, but also through policy developments targeting what fuels these innovations (e.g. regulating AI technologies or the way we access and share data). The European Commission will continue down that path through its Digital Finance Strategy, and by supporting new large-scale project such as the digital euro.

As explained by Mr. Fabio Panetta, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, the key feature for success will be to make the digital euro interoperable with private payment solutions, making it possible for all market participants to offer products to European users. Dr2 Consultants expects that the uptake of the digital euro would create commercial opportunities for FinTech companies, but also likely attract new players to the market, creating more competition for existing firms. Especially, traditional banks could be inclined to up their digital capacities and services further, through innovation or acquisition.

Dr2 Consultants continuously monitors the developments in the discussion on digital finance and supports its clients on these matters. Should you be interested in further information on the digital euro and how it could impact your business, you can reach out to Dr2 Consultants at info@dr2consultants.eu or find more information on our website.

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Fit for 55 package: carbon pricing in the transport sector

The European Green Deal aspires to reduce the transport sector’s dependence on fossil fuels. In June 2021, the Commission will present the ‘Fit for 55 Package’. This legislative package will have to align the EU’s legislation with the 55% emission reduction target to be achieved by 2030. In order for the transport industry to play its part, the EU is increasing its efforts to put a price on CO2-emissions. Dr2 Consultants will demystify the Commission’s greening efforts within the ‘Fit for 55 Package’ through three illustrative examples of increased carbon pricing across different transport modalities.

1. Eurovignette and CO2-emission standards to decarbonize road transport

The use of road infrastructure by heavy-duty vehicles is regulated through the Eurovignette Directive. The revision of this file has entered the final stages of the decision-making procedure. The co-legislators are currently negotiating whether to replace time-based road charges with distance-based road charges in order to apply the polluter-pays principle, in which the polluter bears the expense of its pollution, as envisaged by the Commission in its original proposal.

The decarbonization of heavy-duty road transport will also be further incentivized by the introduction of a new system of varying road charges based on CO2 emissions. Moreover, the draft revised Eurovignette text allows for discounts for zero-emission vehicles, thereby incentivizing the shift towards clean alternatives.

With regards to passenger cars and light-duty vehicles, which are responsible for 75% of EU road transport CO2 emissions, the EU will table the revision of the Regulation setting CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans in June this year to make them ‘fit for 55’. The CO2 reduction target for cars, currently set at 15% for 2025 and 37,5% for 2030 compared to 2021 levels, are expected to be sharpened in order to have at least 30 million zero-emission cars on the European roads in 2030. Dr2 Consultants expects that the various carbon pricing measures in the road transport sector will stimulate the market demand for zero- and low emission vehicles, both for passenger as well as freight transport.

2. Extending the EU ETS to the maritime sector

The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the EU’s instrument to measure and price CO2 emissions per unit, is up for a revision as part of the fit for 55 package. The revised proposal will not only increase its ambition to reduce the number of EU-wide annual allowances (which will significantly drive up the price for CO2 per ton by cutting supply of emissions permits), it is also expected to extend its scope towards other sectors. Where fears for adversely impacting consumers and fuel prices might prevent the road transport sector from being included in the EU ETS on top of already existing CO2 emission standards, emissions from intra-EU maritime transport are likely to become regulated under the EU ETS.

Ultimately, Executive Vice-President Timmermans will decide on the future scope and shape of the revised EU ETS as part of the fit for 55 package. Whereas a closed-system EU ETS would imply a special emission cap for the maritime sector without links to other sectors, an open EU ETS would result in allowances trading with other sectors under the stationary EU ETS. There is also the option for a semi-open ETS in which there are dedicated ‘maritime allowances’ while access to emission allowances under the stationary ETS remains intact. On top of this, there is the question how the revenues flowing from the EU ETS will be earmarked.

Dr2 Consultants expects that a future EU ETS will reflect the inherently international character of the maritime sector. As global measures remain critical to decarbonize the maritime sector, we expect the Commission will try to preserve the competitive position of the EU at a global level. In view of the decarbonization challenges for the sector in the next decades, we expect that the revenues deriving from the EU ETS will be earmarked for research and innovation to stimulate the greening of the sector.

3. Revising energy taxation: end fossil fuel subsidies and incentivize green alternatives

The Energy Taxation Directive (ETD) sets the rules for the taxation of energy products such as motor fuels or electricity. The Directive has not been successfully revised since its introduction in 2003 as it requires unanimity in the Council. However, the file is up for revision as part of the fit for 55 package in order to contribute to the EU’s climate objectives and to end existing tax exemptions.

Ending tax exemptions for aviation kerosene, for example, would result in higher tax burdens, thereby incentivizing the transition to using sustainable aviation fuels. Moreover, the revision of the ETD is welcomed by the railway sector, as ending tax exemptions for polluting fuels would accelerate the modal shift, level the playing field between the different modes of transport, and encourage consumers to choose clean alternatives such as rail transport.

Is your business fit for 55?

The Fit for 55 Package will shape the legislative landscape for the upcoming decade, trigger the public debate and impact businesses across the different transport modalities. The revised and updated CO2-emission standards might radically impact your day-to-day business operations. More than ever, having your voice heard is crucial.

Over the last years, Dr2 Consultants has built up a track record in advising a broad range of transport clients in navigating the EU ecosystem. Would you like to know more about what the upcoming ‘Fit for 55 Package’ means for your organization? Feel free to reach out or visit our Transport Sector webpage.

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EU Trade Policy: business opportunities and way forward

Open, sustainable and assertive. These are the three keywords of the new EU Trade Policy that the Executive Vice-President and Trade Commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, outlined in his speech at the opening of the EU Industry Days on 26 February.

The Industry Days are at their 4th edition and aim to gather policymakers, industry representatives and stakeholders to reflect together on the challenges ahead and the best practices put forward by the European business community. During this 4-day celebration at the end of February, the EU Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) showcased 31 projects funded by the European Commission which targeted the digitalization, climate-neutrality and competitiveness of the post-COVID European economy.

EU trade policy tailored to the EU’s twin transition

It is in this context that Executive VP Dombrovskis, in his opening speech, addressed the participants of the first day with an explicit reference to open trade, sustainable growth and assertive leadership. The way forward for the EU in the post-COVID era is marked by a renewed stimulus to the green and digital transitions in order to build a competitive advantage for European companies on global markets. EU trade policy plays a pivotal role in leveraging on the EU leadership in green technologies, but at the backbone of the strengthened trade policy is the industrial policy. The acknowledgement of the twin transition also in the EU’s external trade policy once again highlights the opportunities for innovative European companies to take a leading role not only on the European, but also the global stage.

European exports count for 35 million jobs and a 12% wage premium due to trade-induced competitiveness. However, the EU Industrial Strategy, which has been put forward one year ago, needs to be updated to take into account the reality of the post-COVID world. To do so, what is required is the reestablishment of the fully functioning Single Market and the recovery of national economies through the NextGenerationEU package, which is financed by the EU budget and which the Member States should use not only to build back from the crisis, but also to invest in the long-term competitiveness of the industry. The NextGenerationEU package provides tangible funding opportunities for sustainable and digital projects through the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

The twin transition of digital and sustainable policies, and the acceleration of the transformation and recovery, is achieved by delivering on the European Green Deal. The fostered digitalization of the economy will trigger further structural changes and increase productivity and trade. The business opportunities unleashed by the twin transition will touch upon different sectors of the economy, including the transport and logistical sectors.

Automotive sector and SMEs as case examples

For example, the automotive value chain is indeed one of the main sectors where the adoption of new technologies, combined with the use of specific raw materials to be imported through trade, can provide a tangible benefit to our industry. The production of batteries and semi-conductors is just an example of how this uptake could be capitalized on for our economy, and they denote a sector where the EU can easily boost its strategic capacity through public and private partnership. As such, EU trade policy will present the European automotive sector with a crucial boost to ensure its global competitiveness.

Therefore, the European Union needs to remove the barriers to the uptake of the new technologies, especially for SMEs. Likewise, a lack of digital skills is to be addressed, in order to further upskill our workforce and increase our trade surplus. A greater role for the EU sustainability agenda and support for the Paris Climate ambitions is therefore envisaged for the next years. Learn more about our sustainability sector here.

Open strategic autonomy at global level

However, the EU efforts in increasing the sustainability of the industry and avoiding carbon leakage may not be sufficient if they do not take place in a framework of concertation and close cooperation with other global actors. To do so, the EU is ready to take the lead and be recognized a benchmark of the economic benefit of sustainable policies applied to the industrial system.

It is for this reason that the EU trade policy must work in synergy with other key players, including industrial policy. The assertive approach of the EU trade policy will help protect the European businesses against the abuse and the unfair trading practices of those countries that will not abide by the sustainable vows. Concretely, new legislative proposals on the screening of foreign subsidies in the Single Market will aim to support European companies. Additionally, a new anti-coercion instrument is in the making, which will enable the EU to act fast when its openness is abused.

Open strategic autonomy is the key concept to lead the way forward for the EU, which can be achieved through a close cooperation between trade and industry, a liberalization of trade in environmental goods and services, a boost to e-commerce and, last but not least, an increased green and digital transformations of our economy.

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How domestic change might shift power relations in the European Council?

Introduction

The European Council plays a central role in defining the common political orientations of the EU. The Council time and again shows this in managing crises at EU-level, for example during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the EU-27’s political leaders represented in the European Council, national inclinations and politics are reflected within the Council, as Member States defend domestic agendas through coalition-building with like-minded countries. Dr2 Consultants’ international team shares some insights on how several upcoming national elections will possibly impact the power dynamics in the European Council.

Changes in the national political arena

With domestic change looming, the power dynamics and coalition-building in the European Council are like to change in the upcoming years. Where the relationship between Merkel and Macron ever more shows the strength of the Franco-German axis in the EU during the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, German elections this year and next year’s French Presidential elections could mean a blow to this ‘motor of European integration’.

Also, other Member States that took center stage during the COVID-19 recovery fund negotiations are confronted with looming change in national politics. The Netherlands, as the voice of the fiscally conservative “Frugal Four” Member States, will hold parliamentary elections in March, while Italy, as the propagator of more European solidarity, just installed a technical government that should invest Italy’s way out of the crisis.

What to expect?

The months ahead will thus witness major changes in domestic politics of the EU Member States that have been at the forefront of the discussions around the Recovery Fund allocations: namely France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The European Council dynamics will likely change according to the new political setting that will rise in the upcoming months.

Potential power shift on Franco-German axis

The main uncertainties lay on French-German elections, which, depending on the outcome, might lead to a shift in power relations among the European Member States. Macron’s French influence projection is slowly filling the gaps provided by German political uncertainty, while at the same time keeping a close eye of collaboration with its partner. If France were to take a more influential role within the EU, it could steer the European Council in a new direction. For the remainder of Macron’s presidency, France would turn the focus on strengthening the EU’s strategic autonomy, as well building up the EU’s power of decision, especially in urgent matters. However, this rise in level of influence could be completely nipped in the bud if Macron were not to be reelected in 2022, and even more so if he were to lose to euro-sceptic Marine Le Pen.

Potential friction on economic solidarity

The new Italian PM Draghi is also likely to trigger new dynamics in the European Council, due to its experience in EU affairs and fiscal rules observation, which inevitably denote recognition of its political stature. Mario Draghi’s expertise in financial matters could boost Italy’s capacity to make the best use of the EU Recovery Fund allocations, avoiding misuse or bureaucratic loops ending up in unspent resources. Finally, the Netherlands, which has so far been seen as guarantor of fiscal respect, risks being further isolated within the European Council, which could hamper its ability to optimally represent its interests. These political changes could lead to new relations being shaped within the European Council, with the Northern countries losing leverage and the Southern countries gaining ground for a solidarity approach combined with due financial observance.

Dr2 Consultants

Dr2 Consultants’ international team constantly monitors political changes throughout Europe, and the subsequent change of political dynamics at the EU level in order to identify threats and opportunities for its clients. After all, the political consensus in the European Council will in the long run impact the policymaking direction that will be taken by the European Commission.

For the interested reader, a short analysis per country follows below.

Country-specific analyses

Germany – a great legacy for a new Chancellor

On 26 September 2021, federal elections will take place in Germany to determine who will succeed Angela Merkel. A turning point in the history of unified Germany, as the current Chancellor has been in office for more than 15 years. After an internal debate in Merkel’s CDU party, Armin Laschet was chosen as peak candidate, and is likely to run for the chancellorship against the candidate of the current junior coalition party, the SPD Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, and the leader of Bavaria and of Merkel’s CSU sister party, Markus Söder.

The focus on the role of Germany in leading European economic and political integration is of utmost importance, as Merkel’s successor will have to face the rising influence of Macron’s France. The axis with France builds on the historic reconciliation initiated by the Élysée Treaty of 1963 and strengthened by the Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation and Integration of January 2019. This revitalized cooperation inspired the Franco-German initiative for the European recovery from COVID-19 of May 2020, which marked not only a new step in the joint fight against the pandemic, but also a step forward in the Franco-German cooperation. This axis is likely to guide Europe towards a post-COVID-19 era of digitalization and sustainability, combining France’s focus on external relations and defence and Germany’s lead in trade and economic growth of the internal market. The question is whether the German federal elections and the French presidential elections of spring 2022 will bolster this complementarity or result in one country taking the ultimate lead.

France – a quest for influence about to be struck down?

Elected in May 2017, Emmanuel Macron’s mandate as President of France has been marked by several social crises, from the ‘gilets jaunes’ movement that started in October 2018, to the wave of protests against police violence, Islamic terror, and the COVID-19 crisis. Despite being considered as a promoter of economic liberalism within his own country, a position that is increasingly being criticized, at the European level, President Macron has been promoting a stronger fiscal integration of the EU. In this regard, he gained important political ground by getting Germany on board with the EU’s €750 billion NextGenerationEU Recovery Fund, considered as the first step towards European debt mutualization. France, supported by French European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, is also pushing for tech reforms and especially for the EU to become digitally sovereign, ideas that are picking up at EU level. However, some of Macron’s ideas for the EU, such as the development of the European Defence Fund or the Conference of the Future of Europe, have sometimes not amounted to much.

Nevertheless, the consensus between EU officials is that Macron has been the most active of recent French presidents, bringing France to a level of influence (almost) comparable to Germany’s. With German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaving office in September, there could be an opportunity for France to increase its influence.

Macron will be up for re-election in April 2022. Candidates are only slowly starting to declare themselves, but many already foresee a duel between RN’s Marine Le Pen and Macron. If Le Pen, an adamant euro-sceptic, were to be elected, this would drastically impact the relations and power dynamics at the EU level. The Regional and Departmental elections, taking place in June 2021, will provide a first indication of voting trends, a year prior to the Presidential election.

Dutch elections – another four years of Mark Rutte?

With Dutch parliamentary elections about to take place on 17 March, the question rises if Prime Minister Mark Rutte is soon to form what will already be the fourth coalition government under his command. While currently leading a caretaker crisis-management government after a scandal about false accusations of child benefit fraud, his liberal party VVD is most likely moving towards a comfortable election victory. After first assuming the office of PM in 2010, the question is if Rutte will be able to exploit his seniority in the European Council despite diplomatic damage suffered during negotiations about the COVID-19 recovery fund.

The Netherlands was heavily criticized over its lack of empathy as showcased by its “blatant demands” for structural reforms in Mediterranean countries in exchange for economic support from the NextGenerationEU Recovery Fund. This blow to Dutch diplomacy threatens to further isolate the Netherlands in the European Council, especially after the UK’s departure from the EU. Striking a balance between comforting the domestic – somewhat Eurosceptic – public opinion and taking a constructive leadership role at the EU level has been a challenge for Mark Rutte and will most likely remain to be so. It will be interesting to observe if the VVD and its new coalition partners will be able to overcome the traditionally hesitant Dutch stance towards European integration.

Italy – a technical government to lead the way out of the pandemic

Following an internal crisis for allocation of power, a new government under the command of former ECB President, Mario Draghi, took office on 13 February. For the new government, no agreement was found within the coalition, so the Italian Head of State handed the country to a technical government instead of launching anticipated elections – after less than 2.5 years since the last political elections. Supported by an even stronger coalition, PM Draghi has pledged his mandate to four priorities: health, work, EU Recovery Fund and sustainability, to be delivered by a governing team composed of ministries revived from previous governments.

Most importantly, the Draghi government has taken matters into its own hands by placing the Ministry for European Affairs directly under the supervision of the Prime Ministry. In a time of needed European concertation for both COVID-19 vaccination efforts and effective use of the country-allocated EU Recovery Funds, Draghi is likely to manage the Rome-Brussels affairs by himself. With the hope that this is a sign of a reaffirmed participation of the Italian PM into the European Council, and of a stricter observance of the rules for an efficient spending of EU resources.

Sustainable Products Initiative: more than just Ecodesign

As announced in its Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) almost a year ago (March 2020), the European Commission aims to make products fit for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and circular economy through a Sustainable Products Initiative (SPI). The SPI will serve as the main instrument in a renewed European approach towards product policy. Due to its broad scope and huge impact on many sectors, Dr2 Consultants guides you through the main issues companies will have to contend with when the SPI is published, its relationship to other policies as well as further opportunities to engage with policymakers.

The European Parliament, in its Non-Legislative Own-Initiative Report on the Circular Economy Action Plan from February 2021, emphasizes the need to turn the linear “take-make-dispose” economy to a truly circular economy. It also underlines the frontrunner role it expects European companies to play in a global market. The SPI thus also presents plenty of opportunities for innovative players in the circular economy.

Sustainable Products Initiative: a broad review of the Ecodesign Directive

The Sustainable Products Initiative will revise the Ecodesign Directive (2009) and make products placed on the EU market more sustainable. The SPI is expected to move beyond the narrow scope of the Ecodesign Directive – exclusively aimed at products, such as household appliances, information and communication technologies or engineering – and set sustainability criteria based on harmonized indicators and life-cycle assessments such as environmental footprints, to the broadest range of products such as:

  • Electronics & ICT equipment;
  • Textiles;
  • Furniture;
  • Steel, cement & chemicals.

Taking into account the broadening of the scope, the European Parliament in its Non-Legislative Own-Initiative Report on the Circular Economy Action Plan similarly actively calls for the establishment of common life cycle assessment methodologies and improved data collection. Such methodologies need to take into account the full life cycle of a product, from-cradle-to grave, and the impact of sourcing, semi-finished products, spare parts and by-products throughout the value chain. The close involvement of stakeholders in defining these methodologies in an open, transparent, and science-based process is crucial. The European Parliament explicitly opens the door here for input by relevant stakeholders.

The broad review of the Ecodesign Directive also means that the Sustainable Products Initiative will be developed in close coordination with other initiatives announced in the CEAP, in particular the initiative on empowering consumers for the green transition and the initiative on the substantiation of environmental claims, both of which are expected to be announced in the second quarter of 2021.

Widened scope brings opportunities and threats

On a general level, the Sustainable Products Initiative is expected to set sustainability principles and specific requirements linked to environmental aspects of products. However, producers of priority product groups such as electronics, ICT and textiles as well as furniture and high impact intermediate products such as steel, cement and chemicals will be made responsible for providing more circular products and intervening before products can become waste (for example providing products as a service, providing repair service or ensuring spare parts availability). The impact of such far-reaching principles on producers cannot be underestimated and Dr2 Consultants can support your organization in identifying the specific aspects within the Sustainable Products Initiative which are expected to affect your business. You can learn more about our sustainability sector here.

On another note, the Commission is determined to set EU rules for mandatory sustainability labelling and/or disclosure of information to market actors along value chains in the form of a digital product passport. Such passports will foster the availability of data related to product’s content and carbon footprint and recyclability. The exact scope of such a digital passport will of course have to be determined in close cooperation with the industry, which is why Dr2 Consultants highly advises companies to actively engage with policymakers.

When it comes to a ‘right to repair’, the European Commission will most likely take heed of the encouraging language of the European Parliament in its Non-Legislative Own-Initiative Report on the Circular Economy Action Plan. Producers, not only of electronic products, will need to be able to provide free-of-charge access to necessary repair and maintenance information, including information on spare parts and software updates, to all market participants.

Finally, the Sustainable Products Initiative is most definitely expected to set more elaborate rules on the inclusion of recycled content in products, for example in packaging. In doing so, the Commission also wants to ensure that hazardous substances in production processes are tracked more thoroughly. The impact of more stringent rules can of course not be underestimated, with a potential impact on the whole packaging and recycling sector.

Final consultation period to open shortly

Having run an initial consultation from September to November 2020, the European Commission is expected to open the public consultation shortly, open for a standard 12 weeks. This phase of the consultation process provides stakeholders with a direct line to the policymakers before the Commission is expected to publish a proposal on the Sustainable Products Initiative by the end of 2021.

Dr2 Consultants’ expertise in this area means that our international team can support you not only in engaging with policymakers during, but also after, this public consultation process. Companies should also already keep an eye out on the position of the European Parliament and Council of the EU on this topic, as evidenced by their own reports on the Circular Economy Action Plan.

Feel free to get in touch with us for more information.

Inland waterways: untapping their potential

In order to accelerate the shift to sustainable and smart mobility, multimodal transport needs a strong boost. In its recent strategies, including the European Green Deal and the EU’s strategy for sustainable and smart mobility, the Commission acknowledges the potential of inland waterways as enabler of the green transition, especially for last-mile connections in urban supply chains. To untap the potential of inland waterways, the current legislative framework will have to be modernized. Dr2 Consultants’ transport team analyzes the key trends for inland waterways and the impact on the sector.

1. Enhancing the robustness of hinterland connections

The Commission calls for an increase of transport activities via inland waterways by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2050. However, climate-related problems are hampering these objectives. The sector is facing severe challenges related to drought and changing water levels across the Rhine, Danube and Elbe rivers. Because of these changing conditions, the hinterland corridors are facing capacity constraints as waterways are not deep enough or bridges are not high enough. Ultimately, this results in disrupted supply chains and rising transportation costs.

The Commission is expected to tackle climate-related issues in the inland waterways in its upcoming Climate Adaptation Strategy (late February). The upcoming NAIADES action plan, as well as the revision of the TEN-T Regulation (respectively scheduled for April and September 2021), will address infrastructural bottlenecks, and aim to upgrade the network’s capacity. In addition, the European Parliament will soon start its work on a resolution for futureproof inland waterways.

These legislative and non-legislative initiatives will dominate the policy agenda for the coming months and will shape the future of a robust transport network. Dr2 Consultants advises companies active in the inland waterways sector to engage with EU policymakers and share their views on these initiatives, for example by submitting their input to the TEN-T public consultation.

2. Boosting sustainable inland waterways fleets

As for many modes of transport, the current fleet of inland waterways vessels is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. In order to accelerate the uptake of low-emission fuels in the sector, the Commission will consider binding targets on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure through the revision of the Alternative Infrastructure Fuels Directive this summer, and unlock funding opportunities through the Connecting Europe Facility, the Innovation Fund and EIB loans to stimulate green investments.

As each TEN-T corridor has different market characteristics and subsequent fuel demands, it remains to be seen whether the Commission will differentiate the targets between the corridors. In addition to the infrastructure component, the Commission will revise the current energy taxation rules in June 2021 to offer tax redundancies for sustainable alternatives or apply higher tax rates for polluting fuels. Last but not least, the Commission is expected to re-align the renewable energy framework with the increased climate ambitions by June 2021.

Dr2 Consultants recommends companies active in the inland waterways sector to closely follow these developments. The legislative framework for the uptake of low-emission fuels and subsequent funding opportunities are expected to provide clarity to investors, thereby facilitating investment decisions aimed at greening the sector.

3. Inland waterways as a solution for efficient multimodal city logistics

The Commission is expected to start engaging with major European cities to come up with sustainable urban mobility plans for 2030 in order to green urban supply chains. As urban areas are increasingly faced with challenges related to congestion and air pollution, inland waterways have the potential to create sustainable last-mile connections into cities and boost multimodal logistics. Through new rules on electronic transport documentation and traffic management, smart river management and the exchange of data across the supply chain should facilitate efficient multimodal city logistics.

Dr2 Consultants advises cities’ representatives and companies active in the inland waterways sector to explore the role of inland waterways in the urban mobility plans and integrate initiatives that have the potential to contribute to green urban supply chains.

What can Dr2 Consultants do for you?

Over the last years, Dr2 Consultants has built up a track record in advising a broad range of transport clients in navigating the EU ecosystem. Would you like to know more about how your organization could make the most out of the transformation of inland waterways transport? Feel free to reach out and discuss opportunities over a virtual coffee.

Visit our Transport Sector webpage.

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Digital tax: insights into the latest global and EU developments

The rise of digitalisation and the dynamic technological advancements continue to influence the way we work, travel and communicate. In the past year, Dr2 Consultants has analyzed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for several of its clients. What clearly stems from the various analysis performed is that the Coronavirus has acted as a catalyst for a global transition towards a more digital world, resulting in behavioral changes with lasting effects. Against this backdrop of a rapidly growing digital economy, there is a need for a modern, stable regulatory and tax framework to address the technological developments and challenges. Over the past few years, there have been European and global initiatives regarding a reform on the international corporate tax framework and the implementation of digital taxes. While digitalization is encouraged and promoted as it can benefit the economy and society, digital companies have also been urged by lawmakers across the world to contribute their fair share to society.

On the EU level, in the context of the EU’s recovery from the pandemic, the European Council has tasked the European Commission to put forward proposals for additional EU own resources, one of which is a proposal for a digital levy. On the international level, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been working on a global solution regarding digital taxation by facilitating the negotiations between more than 100 countries over the past two years.

This Dr2 Consultants’ blog post presents the latest developments on digital taxation on both global and European level and provides a brief analysis of the potential impact of the future initiatives on businesses.

Background of digital taxation

In the past few years, the international community has been trying to reform the international tax system to address the digitalization of the global economy. The OECD has been tasked with designing a global compromise solution, with 137 countries participating in the negotiations. The new global digital tax regime, if adopted, will have an impact on various digital companies. Specifically, the main issue at stake has been the question of where multinational companies should pay taxes: in the country where they are headquartered or in countries where their customers reside. Since May 2019, the OECD has been hosting public consultations and negotiations to address the tax challenges of the digitalization of the economy (Pillar 1) and to address tax avoidance through a global minimum tax (Pillar 2). In particular, pillar one has been quite contentious, with strong disagreements between the United States and several EU countries.

The lack of agreement on digital taxation either on OECD or EU level could result in legal fragmentation and add a substantial burden to businesses around the world.

Besides the OECD’s efforts to reach a global solution, a group of EU Member States and the UK have proceeded with the implementation of national digital taxes to remain in force (at least) until an international agreement is reached. In 2019, France started applying a 3% digital services tax on big tech companies with revenue of more than €750 million of which at least €25 million generated in France. Italy and Austria have been applying their own digital levies of 3% and 5% respectively, since January 2020. Also the UK approved a 2% tax, applied from April 2020. Spain and the Czech Republic are currently in the process of discussing such taxes and the Belgian government has announced it will start work on a national digital levy in 2023 in case there has been no progress on OECD or EU level beforehand. The growing number of countries imposing national digital taxes makes the OECD negotiations and the EU’s upcoming proposal more and more pertinent. In fact, the lack of agreement on either level could result in legal fragmentation and add a substantial burden to businesses around the world.

Recent OECD developments

After failing to reach an agreement in 2020, the negotiating countries at the OECD level have set a new deadline to agree on a global compromise solution – end of June 2021. Between 27 and 29 January, the OECD held the 11th meeting of the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework, to take stock of the state of play of the negotiations up to that point. Finance ministers from several countries, such as the UK, Italy, Germany and Canada, have expressed hopes that a global digital tax deal could be reached by the summer. They cautioned, however, that there was still outstanding work, specifically on Pillar 1. The demonstrated optimism has been confirmed by the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Treasury, Janet Yellen, who has started bilateral talks with some of her European counterparts, showing commitment to continue the talks on a global tax agreement.

However, the change of the U.S. administration is not necessarily a sign for a complete reversal of the U.S. position on a global digital tax. While the new Biden administration is expected to remove the controversial proposal for the inclusion of a provision regarding “safe harbours”, allowing U.S. tech giants to opt out of the new regime, Secretary Yellen has stated in her Senate Confirmation Hearing that in case no deal is reached, the U.S.A. will consider the application of retaliatory tariffs. For the moment, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has criticized the adoption of national digital taxes, but has refrained from imposing tariffs, while the OECD negotiations continue.

Recent EU developments

On 14 and 18 January, the European Commission launched, respectively, a roadmap and a public consultation on ‘a fair & competitive digital economy – digital levy.’ The initiatives aim to gather stakeholders’ feedback and views on the introduction of a digital tax to address the issue of fair taxation of the digital economy. The new initiative, according to the roadmap, is to be designed in a way that is compatible with the international agreement to be reached in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as well as broader international obligations. The new EU digital levy initiative could potentially include a corporate income tax top-up to be applied to all companies conducting certain digital activities in the EU, a tax on revenues created by certain digital activities conducted in the EU, and/or a tax on digital transactions conducted business-to-business in the EU.

Potential implications of digital taxation for businesses

Dr2 Consultants expects the new initiative regarding EU digital taxation by the European Commission to have an impact on businesses engaging and operating in the digital economy, including foreign businesses operating in the EU. In addition, it will also affect tax compliance costs, tax revenues, competitiveness of EU digital companies, and ultimately consumers. While stating that the Commission proposal is not supposed to interfere with the OECD negotiations, and previously committing to withdrawing its proposal in case of an agreement at the OECD level, the European Commission has recently confirmed that it will move forward with publishing a proposal on an EU digital levy in June 2021, regardless of the outcome of the global negotiations.

While the digital tax measures are generally supposed to target large digital companies, their effects are likely to have a wider impact.

The upcoming Commission proposal is likely to use an eventual OECD agreement as a basis and add additional requirements for businesses operating within the EU, the details of which remain unclear for the moment. However, such approach could pose a risk of legal fragmentation and might encourage more EU Member States to adopt national digital tax measures in the meantime. Furthermore, businesses are fearing unilateral measures, national or European, as they might lead to double taxation, market distortion and retaliation from other countries. Both the EU and the OECD initiatives will likely target automated digital services and consumer-facing businesses, such as search engines, social media platforms, online marketplaces and businesses selling goods and services to consumers online. It has been clarified that intermediate products and components for consumer products would be out of scope, with some of them remaining subject to possible exceptions. In terms of thresholds, companies falling under the scope of the initiatives will have revenues of at least €750 million, with sales in each country reaching a specific revenue threshold. However, the details of the scope of the future initiative are still a subject of debate at the OECD negotiations. Similarly, as the EU proposal is in a very early stage, one might infer that the OECD requirements will translate as minimum requirements in the EU proposal.

While the digital tax measures are generally supposed to target large digital companies, their effects are likely to have a wider impact. When being confronted with a new digital tax, there are various ways in which companies can integrate it into their business model. As can already be seen from the introduction of unilateral digital taxes in some European countries, some companies might decide to absorb the additional costs themselves, while others might decide to pass on the extra costs to their business customers or users via price increases.

Next steps

Dr2 Consultants advises businesses to pay close attention to these developments in the coming months. In particular, on the OECD level, leaders are expected to continue with the negotiations regarding a global digital tax regime, and potentially reach an agreement by the end of June 2021. According to Pascal Saint-Amans, Head of taxation at the OECD, the best-case scenario would be reaching a high-level agreement on taxation by June, and then clarifying the details of the agreement during the Indonesia Presidency of the G20 in 2022. Furthermore, even when a full agreement is reached, given the fact that 137 countries participate in the negotiations, the implementation of the new rules will be a time-consuming endeavour.

On the EU side, the Commission proposal on an EU digital levy is expected in June 2021, after which the discussions will continue in the Council of the EU, as taxation matters are decided by unanimity. Although the European Parliament does not have a definitive say on tax matters, the EU Parliament’s Economic Affairs’ Committee (ECON) has already released a draft report, calling for an EU solution on digital tax and stressing the importance of a level playing field for providers of traditional services and digital services in the EU.

Dr2 Consultants continuously monitors the developments of the discussion on the new global, EU and national tax regimes, and supports its clients on these matters accordingly. Should you be interested in further information on digital taxation and how it could impact your business, you can reach out to Dr2 Consultants at info@dr2consultants.eu or find more information on our website.

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Smart mobility within cities: benefits and challenges

Cities have an important role to play in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and in reaching the goals of the European Green Deal, since cities are responsible for about 72% of all greenhouse gas emissions, a considerable part of which comes from urban transport. In its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, the European Commission calls on cities to be at the forefront of the transition towards more sustainability, and it sets the goal of achieving 100 European climate-neutral cities by 2030, with a big role for innovative digital solutions. Dr2 Consultants will take you through the key trends and challenges in the transition to smart and sustainable mobility in European cities.

Why does smart mobility in cities matter?

The idea behind the concept of smart mobility is to limit the use, or replace altogether, privately owned gas-powered vehicles by providing easily accessible, cheap, and sustainable alternatives, as well as using technology and digitalization, specifically Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), to collect, process and spread information in order to manage mobility more efficiently. The main objectives of smart mobility are to reduce traffic congestion and air and noise pollution, increase safety, improve transfer speed, and reduce transfer costs between different modes of transportation. Smart solutions for mobility are also recognized as essential to further decarbonize the transport sector and reach the ambitious emission reduction goals the EU institutions have set.

In practice, cities have a variety of options to implement smart mobility with solutions fitting for their residents. The concept of smart mobility promotes a wide range of alternative modes of transportation, from privately owned or shared bicycles to electric scooters, buses, metros, taxis, car-sharing, and ridesharing. For example, the city of Paris has bet on the development of a widespread bike-sharing system, with 15,000 electric or regular bicycles available to users all throughout the city.

Dr2 Consultants recognizes that digitization and especially data management are a big part of smart mobility, allowing to smoothen traffic as well as offering integrated solutions to users. For example, some cities collect data to provide real-time information allowing travelers to adapt their route to avoid congested areas. Other examples include connected traffic lights adjusting their timing to respond to real-time traffic or connected cars able to identify and direct the driver to the nearest available parking spot.

Heightened ambition

The European Commission’s recently published Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility proposes several measures to make the transition to carbon-neutral smart cities a reality. The Strategy recognizes the need for clearer guidance in mobility management and urban planning, to adapt the shifts in transportation habits as well as provide the most adequate sustainable mobility options. In it, the European Commission identifies several concepts which can be added to cities’ policy toolboxes to decarbonize urban mobility in a smart way.

The strategy encourages the development of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) as an alternative to the use of private cars. Dr2 Consultants has identified MaaS as a very important area in the field of digitization of mobility, as it integrates different forms of transport into a unique digital service, easily accessible on-demand. It provides, within a single application and through a single payment channel, access to various forms of transport such as public transport, ride- or bike-sharing, and car rental. The city of Helsinki has for example made available to its inhabitants the Whim app, which allows to plan a trip and pay for all modes of public and private transportation existing within the city, from train to bus, to carshare and bikeshare.

Additionally, the Commission notes the increased use of shared and collaborative mobility services as alternative to private cars or packed public transport, such as shared cars, shared bikes, or ride-hailing, through intermediary platforms like Uber or Lime. Shared mobility and micro mobility devices currently remain highly unregulated and raise important safety issues.  To ensure the safety of such services and the level playing field between intermediaries, the Commission will put forward measures on on-demand passenger transport and ride-hailing platforms. Moreover, the Commission will issue guidelines to support the safe use of micro mobility devices such as e-bikes, scooters, or e-skateboards.

Finally, the growth of the e-commerce sector, even more so due to COVID-19, has seen an increase in deliveries. This raises the needs for multimodal logistics solutions, to avoid unnecessary delivery runs and congestion. According to the Commission, cities’ urban plans should accelerate the deployment of zero-emission solutions, such as cargo bikes or automated deliveries through drones. For cities crossed by rivers and other waterways, those should be used to relieve traffic congestion pressure from streets and roads. In Amsterdam, for example, the municipality uses electric boats to transport goods across the city, using the city’s wide network of canals. Delivery service provider DHL also uses the canals to facilitate deliveries, thanks to floating distribution centers.

Challenges in implementing smart mobility solutions within cities

Even though the advantages of the rollout of smart and sustainable mobility in cities are clear, there are still several challenges that need to be overcome to make the most out of the transformation of the mobility system.

Users

However, Dr2 Consultants recognizes that the biggest obstacle to the introduction of smart mobility solutions remains the users themselves. Complaints when municipalities decide to reduce speed limits or turn streets into pedestrian areas, are frequent. Especially when the implementation of smart mobility strategies requires significant changes to cities’ infrastructure, from bike lanes to electric charging points, which ask for heavy investments and public work, inhabitants seem less acceptant.

Security and Privacy

Smart mobility resting mostly on collection and use of data to feed Intelligent Transport Systems, raise the usual concern for security and privacy. Therefore, properly securing such systems is extremely important to avoid data breaches or misuse of data collected. Ensuring their security also contributes to increasing citizens’ trust in data-sharing, ensuring a widespread collection of data necessary to have the most up-to-date and relevant information, and in turn provide the most precise service.

Deployment of 5G networks

Additionally, the increased automation needed for smart mobility solutions relies on the widespread deployment of wireless mobile telecommunication systems, and especially newly introduced 5G systems, capable of supporting extremely high level of interconnections and uninterrupted data exchanges. The deployment of 5G networks is not equal within territories, and said networks also need to be properly secured. The Commission aims to tackle these challenges in its 5G Action Plan (published last year).

Accessibility

Increased digitalization of mobility also needs to consider accessibility, keeping user demand in mind when designing new urban plans and innovations, for elderly and disabled people. Not everyone knows, can or has the devices needed to use an app to plan their trip or book multimodal tickets. If accessibility is not at the core of urban planning, the solutions and innovations proposed risk not being widely deployed, limiting the potential benefits.

Dr2 Consultants’ Breakfast Meetings

Between 3 February and 17 March 2021, Dr2 Consultants organized a series of Breakfast Meetings on sustainable and smart mobility. During these lively one-on-ones several European and business stakeholders shared their vision on EU urban mobility challenges. Our guest speakers included Zuzana Púčiková (Head of EU Public Policy at Uber), MEP Tom Berendsen (NL, EPP; member of the EP’s Regional Development Committee and substitute in the Transport Committee), Isabelle Vandoorne (Deputy Head of Unit DG MOVE B.4 on Sustainable and Intelligent Transport) and Daan van der Tas (Lead Mobility as a Service & Shared Mobility at the Municipality of Amsterdam). You can read the main takeaways from our Breakfast Meetings here.

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