News

Alexander De Croo announces Belgian priorities for years to come

On 12 October, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo gave the yearly State of the Union address in the Federal Parliament, during which he outlined the government’s focus areas for the next year(s). De Croo touched upon various topics like the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Belgian economy as well as the key role the country has played in the development and production of vaccines.

Preparing for the aftermath of this world-wide crisis, the Prime Minister underlined the importance to invest strongly to modernize the Belgian economy through digitalization and making it more sustainable. In this light, De Croo announced that the government from this point until 2024 would invest €1 billion in digitalization and sustainability projects.

“We moeten niet alleen herstellen, onze economie moet ook verder vernieuwen, digitaler en duurzamer worden”

Regarding digitalization, Belgium aims mainly to focus on developing digital skills, artificial intelligence, cyber security and 5G. In addition, De Croo announced the country would start research on the development of 6G to provide fast connections ready for the future. In addition, the Prime Minister revealed that the various government services would take further steps in digitalization, making these services more accessible, trustworthy and less expensive.

Regarding sustainability, De Croo underlined that there are many opportunities to be found in the transition towards climate neutrality, with Belgian sustainable technologies potentially leading the way. In this light, the Prime Minister stressed that Belgium is already world-wide among the best performers when it comes to offshore energy production and announced that the government aims to double the wind energy production in the Nord Sea. In addition, Belgium will launch projects on solar panels at sea and invest in the development of hydrogen to make the country’s industry carbon neutral. In line with these investments, De Croo said that his government will further invest in transport by rail and improve access to maritime ports to decrease transport by road as much as possible.

“Nos technologies belges, elles, changeront le monde”

De Croo also highlighted that, more than ever, the government is convinced of the importance of European cooperation. He referred to the European joint procurement of corona vaccines as an excellent example. For him this was a proof that the EU today stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world. Equally, when looking at renewable energy and energy efficiency, the Prime Minister underlined that cooperation on EU level was key.

The Prime Minister also made a statement about the Brexit agreement and the troubles this had caused to the country. The brexiteers were wrong to refer to the European Union as the problem, the Prime Minister concluded.

“Europa is niet het probleem. Het is de oplossing. Omdat we samen sterk staan. L’union fait la force.”

The State of the Union by Alexander De Croo underlines the importance of acknowledging all the opportunities for green and digital initiatives and shows clearly that there is a lot of room for companies to either become more sustainable and digitally active themselves, or to provide new innovations to speed up the transitions. Dr2 Consultants is ready to provide further guidance in the Belgian plans to renew their economy.

Cybersecurity month: increasing digital resiliency

Recently, the European Union launched its annual campaign dedicated to promoting cybersecurity among EU citizens and organizations, in order to provide up-to-date online security information through awareness-raising and share of good practices. For this reason, October 2021 is dedicated to cybersecurity. The main objectives of the EU’s 2021 Campaign are to ensure that end-users and organisations are well informed on potential cybersecurity risks and that they stay safe online.

The past year has highlighted the importance of digitalization across all areas of the economy and society. People and businesses started relying on digital solutions to interact and keep their businesses afloat. Dr2 Consultants expects the pandemic will have triggered permanent changes, making it imperative for businesses and governments to invest in digital solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic added a sense of tremendous urgency to digital developments and has led citizens and businesses to conduct their daily lives and work online. This change of habits has opened the way to new business opportunities, but it also paved the way to online threats and vulnerability to cyberattacks, ransomwares and hackers. In this blog, Dr2 Consultants provides an oversight of the digital challenges the EU is working on. Dr2 Consultants believes cybersecurity is the solution to this threat, and the European Union and its Member States are increasingly aware of it.

Cybersecurity: a fundamental factor of stability

World-wide online security will be a fundamental factor of stability in the future, as local authorities, public institutions, citizens and businesses rely more and more on online websites and portals, which store data. Dr2 Consultants is convinced that a successful digital transformation depends on data-driven innovation, which in turn relies on the safety and stability of those data. It is therefore crucial to create a safe and easy way to maintain control over the virtual gold of the new society.

The Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) agreed on 1 October on the proposal of the Data Governance Act, which creates a framework to foster a new business model – data intermediation services – to provide a secure environment to help companies or individuals sharing data. For companies, it would support voluntary data-sharing between businesses or facilitate the compliance with the obligations set by law. By using these services, companies will be able to share their data without the fear of misuse or a loss of competitive advantage.

In her State of the European Union speech on 15 September, EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen mentioned the need for a European Cyber Defence Policy, including legislation on common standards under a new European Cyber Resilience Act, expected to be announced in 2022. President von der Leyen announced further investments in digital infrastructures, as well as boosting digital skills.

This shows that educating online users has become more important than ever before. The European Commission is pushing forward with public consultations and planned legislation in the digital sector such as the Digital Services Act and the Data Act. With France set to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in January 2022, it would also make a priority on the digital files. Heads of the European and French cybersecurity agencies already asked for higher spending on cybersecurity.

Member States also long recognized the need to ensure the resilience of critical infrastructures providing services which are essential for the smooth running of the internal market and the lives and livelihoods of European citizens. Furthermore, Dr2 Consultants expects the contribution of businesses will have a crucial impact in making these initiatives balanced and future-proof.

What can Dr2 Consultants do for you?

These developments will impact business operations in a wide array of industries in various ways. Dr2 Consultants has the right knowledge and capacity to help organizations and companies identify the right impact and opportunities of this draft legislation. If you think that your organization too will be impacted by the European Commission’s legislative initiatives on data governance, artificial intelligence, digital services and more, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

SOTEU: What to expect from a greener and more digital Europe

On 15 September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her second ‘State of the Union 2021’ address during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.  

In her speech, President von der Leyen focused on the main achievements of the Commission over the last year, addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic together with a list of ambitious goals to re-launch the Union’s economy, focusing on digitalization and decarbonization. The Commission aims to close the climate finance gap, calling on global partners like the US and China to take serious commitments. Among the Commission’s priorities, von der Leyen referred specifically to the ambition of the block decreasing CO2 emissions by at least 55% by 2030. She stressed that Europe cannot act alone stating that “the COP26 in Glasgow will be a moment of truth for the global community.” In this light, the President said that the EU would propose an additional €4 billion in climate financing until 2027.  

Furthermore, President von der Leyen announced a new connectivity strategy called Global Gateway partnerships, which would enhance investments in quality infrastructure, connecting goods, people and services around the world.  

             “We want to create links – and not dependencies!” 

In the same vein, von der Leyen emphasized the importance of the European strategy to boost the digital transformation and match the digital 2030 goals, stating that “digital is the make-or-break issue […] So this is not just a matter of our competitiveness. This is also a matter of tech sovereignty. So, let’s put all of our focus on it.” 

As part of the digital agenda, she announced two new initiatives to be published in the upcoming months. Firstly, the new European Chips Act, which aims to create new markets for ground-breaking European tech. Secondly, the European Cyber Resilience Act with the goal to enhance the capability to address cyber threats. Also, President von der Leyen announced further investments in digital infrastructures, like the expansion of 5G and fibre as well as boosting digital skills. 

These initiatives are all aimed at protecting the future of the young generation, therefore, President von der Leyen declared 2022 to be the Year of the European Youth. In this context, the Commission will put in place a new program to help young Europeans to find temporary jobs in other EU countries, called ALMA. 

Overall, President von der Leyen was confident about the future of the EU when facing all the challenges ahead.  

After the State of the European Union, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) reacted to the Commission President’s speech. Manfred Weber, President of the European People’s Party (EPP) welcomed the Commission’s plan to boost the European economy and to invest in particular in new opportunities, like sustainable mobility that would create new jobs. In this light, he said that close cooperation with the United States was key and proposed to establish an EU-US trade emergency program.  

On the other hand, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) were more critical and called, together with the Greens/EFA, for further ambition on the climate strategy and biodiversity legislation. The Greens/EFA went even further criticizing the Commission for taking only half measures and stressed that achieving the Green Deal goals was at stake.  

What’s next?

On 19 October, the Commission will present its work program for 2022 outlining upcoming priorities and both legislative as well as non-legislative proposals. 

Marcel Borger, founder and CEO of OrangeGas, shares OrangeGas’ views on the Fit for 55 package

On 14 July 2021, the European Commission presented the Fit for 55 package, which contains numerous legislative proposals aiming to make the European mobility and energy sector fit for a 55% emissions reduction by 2030. In order to outline the exact impact of the package, Dr2 Consultants asked Marcel Borger, founder and CEO of OrangeGas, exactly what the new package means for his business. As a clean fuels and energy supplier, OrangeGas finds itself right in the midst of the proposed policy measures.

Below you can read more about how OrangeGas has prepared for the publication of the Fit for 55 package, how it views the proposed legislations and how the package will likely impact OrangeGas.

If you have any questions about the potential impact of the Fit for 55 package on your organization, do not hesitate to reach out to Dr2 Consultants.

When did you first hear about the Fit for 55 package?

We were aware of upcoming legislation relevant to OrangeGas quite early on, such as the revision of the CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, but we were not aware that this initiative was part of the Fit for 55 package. We recognized the importance of the upcoming legislation, but we realized we had too little knowledge about it. That is why we hired a new employee focusing on Public Affairs. She mapped out the upcoming legislation and as such we became familiar with the Fit for 55 package in early 2021.

The package contains a lot of legislation: which elements are most relevant to OrangeGas?

OrangeGas supports the EU’s ambition to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Our philosophy is to tackle the energy transition with an open and integrated approach. That is why we offer a total package of clean energy carriers for road transport. We are of the opinion that the European Commission is making a serious mistake by solely focusing on electric and hydrogen vehicles and neglecting the potential of biomethane as a green fuel. Biomethane is the cleanest energy carrier available in the market today.

There are three initiatives most important to us: the revision of the CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED3) and the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR). Moreover, two other important initiatives are the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive (ETD) and the extension of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) to road transport.

The proposed legislation determines which technologies and energy carriers will be used for road transport in the future. With regards to the boosted CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans: the Commission proposes to ban the internal combustion engine by 2035. The internal combustion engine is seen as the problem, while the problem is actually the fossil fuels. For us, it is important that – in addition to electric vehicles – internal combustion engine vehicles continue to operate so that they can run on clean, non-fossil, affordable energy carriers such as biomethane. Biomethane is 100% non-fossil and produced from waste streams such as sludge, manure, and household waste. According to OrangeGas, there should be a mechanism in place to account for the contribution of net-zero fuels, such as biomethane.

How do you assess the impact of the relevant Fit for 55 elements? Which threats and opportunities were you able to identify?

We support the goal of climate-neutral road transport by 2035. However, reaching this goal is only possible if all green technologies are embraced and if emissions are based on a well-to-wheel approach. The newly proposed CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans solely focuses on electric and hydrogen passenger vehicles. With this, we expect that CO2 emission reduction will be lower than wished for in the coming years, because solely electric vehicles will not be able to meet the market demands of the European society.

As OrangeGas, we think the Commission is overlooking an important transition fuel. Vehicles running on biomethane reduce CO2 emissions by at least 90% (compared to gasoline), the needed infrastructure is in place with over 4,000 refueling stations in Europe and it is affordable for all European citizens. This means we can start reducing CO2 emissions already today! Moreover, even if the international combustion engine is banned by 2035, vehicles with internal combustion engines will be driving around for the coming 30 years or so. We think those vehicles should be fueled with biomethane instead of fossil fuels.

We see opportunities once the proposed legislation is based on a well-to-wheel approach in calculating greenhouse gas emissions of energy carriers in the road transport sector. Legislation should be based on a net-zero approach, instead of a tailpipe-emission approach. As such, counting CO2 emissions along the entire chain is the only fair and just method. OrangeGas offers a total package of clean energy carriers for road transport: electricity, hydrogen, and biomethane. Since all Member States have to make their vehicle fleets more sustainable, and since we offer all sustainable energy carriers, we will continue to be a big market player in Europe. This is definitely the case since biomethane byproducts also serve to support the production of electric fuel cells and other (bio)fuels and therefore also support the transition towards electrification.

How do you prepare, as an organization, for the impact of this new legislation?

The vision of OrangeGas is to realize affordable and sustainable road transport for everyone. This vision will not change. We will continue investing in green fuel infrastructure. Meanwhile, we will keep promoting biomethane and informing citizens and policymakers about today’s cleanest fuel: biomethane.

Do you have any advice for other organizations or companies which might also see threats and/or opportunities in the Fit for 55 package and the European Green Deal ambitions of the European institutions?

“Have guts, work together, and prove them wrong.”

We think it is very important to work together, to create a broad and strong coalition of stakeholders. With such a coalition, you (1) combine knowledge, strengths, and assets, and (2) proclaim one message rather than fragmented messages.

More specific, we think there are four elements that are of great importance: expertise, information, visibility and evidence. You need expertise on the topic itself (in this case biomethane) and on the EU decision-making processes. In order to have the right expertise on the EU procedures, we hired an employee working on Public Affairs and we are supported by Dr2 Consultants. Their support makes a significant difference in getting our message across. Secondly, it is of importance to inform and educate policymakers. Often, they have too little knowledge on, in our case, biomethane. Therefore, we publish position papers, produce videos, and organize dialogues. Thirdly, you have to make sure your product is seen and known to citizens. The better your product is known, the bigger influence it will have on society and policymakers’ decision-making. Finally, while Public Affairs activities are crucial, you cannot forget to keep your core business running, which is the living proof of your business model’s success.

For more information about the Fit for 55 package, read our latest policy updates on this webpage and sign up here to receive them directly in your inbox.

Dr2 Consultants Brussels welcomes Jeroen Lammers as Associate Partner

Dr2 Consultants is pleased to announce that Jeroen Lammers of Dr2 Consultants Copenhagen will from now on also share his international experience and network as associate partner of the Dr2 Consultants team in Brussels.

Jeroen has a wealth of experience in public affairs in the EU, the OECD, the Netherlands and Denmark in a wide range of policy issues such as taxation, corporate governance, sustainability, innovation and international trade.

Currently, Jeroen manages the Dr2 Consultants’ Copenhagen office in Denmark. He focuses on the policy areas of taxation, sustainability and digitalization and helps organizations with research-based impact assessments and public affairs strategies. He is also a lecturer at the Copenhagen Business School in international corporate tax law. Until 2019 Jeroen was Director Economic Policy at the Dutch business confederations VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland.

The importance of global public affairs is growing, as policy areas and companies extend across borders and become more and more interconnected. The closer cooperation between the Dr2 Consultants’ offices in Brussels and Copenhagen underlines this and contributes to further increasing the impact for the clients of the global Dr2 network with offices in The Hague, Shanghai, New York, Copenhagen and Brussels.

Dr2 Consultants appoints Viktoria Vajnai as new Partner and launches new services on the ‘Fit for 55 Package’

Dr2 Consultants is pleased to announce Viktoria Vajnai as new Partner. Viktoria has been a member of the Dr2 Consultants’ office in Brussels and has fifteen years of experience in EU Public Affairs specialised in transport and sustainability.

We are excited to welcome Viktoria in our management. She has been actively contributing to the shaping of our company both as a senior consultant and as a junior partner for the past years and we look forward to further building on our international team and successful services” said Margreet Lommerts and Jasper Nagtegaal, Managing Partners.

Today, Dr2 Consultants is also launching its ‘Fit for 55’ services that will provide companies with targeted solutions on the European Commission’s ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030. Among others, Dr2 Consultants will offer a Fit for 55 Impact Scan, tailor its public affairs activities around the European Commission’s initiative and will organize a dedicated training that will help interested parties understand the impact of the legislative proposals on their businesses.

If you would like to know more about our services, please contact Dr2 Consultants.

Dr2 Consultants’ Breakfast Meetings: Key Takeaways

Cities have an important role to play in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and in reaching the goals of the European Green Deal. 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 itself the goal of achieving 100 European climate-neutral cities by 2030. In this context, Dr2 Consultants organized a series of 30-minute breakfast meetings on sustainable and smart mobility in European cities. During these sessions, Dr2 Consultants has been engaged in lively one-on-ones with several European and business stakeholders to discuss topical subjects in EU urban mobility, especially focusing on the challenges that cities need to overcome to become climate neutral and stimulate automated and shared mobility.

General takeaways

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major challenge for everyone, and will likely impact the way people live, and in turn mobility trends. During lockdowns, people have witnessed less congested and less polluted cities, and will want the benefits to remain in the post-COVID period as well. On the other hand, many urban inhabitants have felt smothered in cities during lockdown and are now looking to move away, especially with the increase of teleworking allowing them to live further away from work. This also has the potential to impact mobility trends.

Zuzana Pucikova – Head of EU Public Affairs at Uber

On the industry side, there is a role to play in offering solutions for smarter and more sustainable mobility in cities, and especially in offering alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles. In this sense, the European Commission’s approach in the European Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy recognizing ride-hailing as key, safe and sustainable mobility solutions as well as clarifying legal status of ride-hailing platforms offers the right framework for the development of ride-sharing companies, such as Uber.

The work of transit agencies has been especially important, shifting from a role of transport provider to mobility manager. The pandemic is an opportunity to integrate and complement transit networks with services such as Uber, with authorities now taking a holistic approach to making transport more accessible, equitable and efficient. This enables them to be much more ‘nimble’, and address the challenges of today and tomorrow;

Given the urgent need to reduce transport emissions and to drive green recovery, Uber committed to becoming climate neutral by 2030 across the US, Europe and Canada, and by 2040 for the rest of the world. Across seven key European cities it aims to become 50% electric already by 2025. However, in order for transport to become more sustainable, we need to reduce the reliance of households on private cars.

Tom Berendsen – Member of European Parliament for CDA/EPP

In order to boost the uptake of smart and sustainable mobility solutions within cities, the EU should provide the right set of regulations and a framework for businesses, establishing product standards. The EU level is also where best practices should be shared.

The most efficient way to stimulate sustainable and smart mobility within cities is to adopt a bottom-up approach, focusing on city planning. Indeed, cities are best placed to know the needs of their inhabitants. Therefore, when preparing regulations, the EU should listen to cities’ experiences and ideas. Moreover, traditional modes of transport will need to cohabit with new “smart” systems of mobility. To ensure a smooth cohabitation, there is a need for test areas that can only be implemented within cities, to learn from the problems raised there and take the appropriate measures at European level.

To ensure the mass uptake of more sustainable mobility by citizens, for example of electric vehicles, it is necessary to provide affordable and easily accessible infrastructures (e.g. sufficient charging points). The development of such infrastructures are projects of common European interest, as we need to ensure that the knowledge and skills needed exist within the EU, and that we are not dependent of foreign actors.

Isabelle Vandoorne – Deputy Head of Unit B.3 at DG MOVE

The European Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy has the double objective of contributing to the objectives of the European Green Deal through the greening of the transport sector, and of digitalizing mobility. The Strategy adopts a holistic approach, considering not only urban mobility but also peri-urban and rural areas and how to connect them. Especially considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the future of work, which will see telework more widely accepted, and office areas maybe displaced from inner cities to peripheries. In order to improve commuting, proper infrastructures are needed, including functioning multimodal hubs.

In ten years’ time, cities will be more livable. The decrease in number of cars and traffic will leave more space for inhabitants and for other modes of transport.

Regarding the uptake of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), the Commission will organize a forum, in a format similar to the Digital Transport and Logistic Forum (DTLF), to bring all stakeholders to the table.

As mentioned in previous meetings, urban planning is at the core of sustainable and smart mobility. That is why the Commission is in the process of revising its 2013 Urban Mobility Package, to enhance its scope. The Urban Mobility Package includes guidelines from experts on the overall development of urban plans for mobility, as well topical guidelines of relevant arising topics, such as MaaS.

One of the key aspects to boost the digitalization of the transport sector is the creation of a European Mobility Data Space, whose components are described in the European Data Strategy. In order to deliver in time (2021-2022) on its commitments, DG MOVE has reorganized its internal digital task force to coordinate with all units within the DG, in order to adopt a common approach. Moreover, a special expert group has been created to reflect on the EU Mobility Data Space, which has the particularity of covering a variety of sub-mobility data spaces for all the different modes of transport. DG MOVE, in collaboration with DG CNECT, will elaborate interfaces to make these bubbles interact with each other.

Finally, the Commission, and especially Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, have always had the ambition to ensure that the skills and jobs needed to develop technologies exist within the EU, so that the bloc is not dependent on external actors. This is always taken into consideration by the Commission when proposing legislation. The Commission relies on the excellence of EU industries, notably through partnership programmes, such as Horizon Europe.

Daan van der Tas – Project Leader for Mobility-as-a-Service and Shared Mobility, City of Amsterdam

  • Amsterdam, who is evolving like an international city, is witnessing an important increase of activity in its narrow streets, with an ever-growing supply of different modes of transport. Rethinking mobility systems is relevant not only in terms of clean air but also considering the impact of mobility on public spaces. The main goal of the city of Amsterdam is to reclaim public spaces from cars and alleviate pressure on roadways, for example by expanding the use of its waterways, which are currently mostly used for leisure.
  • With regards to micromobility, Amsterdam is being very cautious, considering that when e-mobility solutions first appeared a few years ago, the city was completely overrun by e-bikes flooding the streets. Amsterdam has now re-introduced e-scooters and is slowly reintroducing e-bikes. In Amsterdam, this needs a special adaptation since most people already own a bike, if not several.
  • In cities of the future, there will be much less room for cars, private or shared, whether for circulation or parking, as we will see an increase of micromobility solutions. Transport systems will also be increasingly digitalized. Additionally, all mobility within Amsterdam will be CO2-neutral by 2030.

  • Shared mobility services raise several challenges, but they can be easily resolved. For example, Amsterdam is working on resolving the conflict between taxis and private ride-hailing platforms such as Uber by developing virtual queuing solutions. Additionally, although micromobility solutions raise certain criticism (safety issues, being discarded anywhere in the streets and taking up space on sidewalks), their advantages outweigh the disadvantages if they can prevent polluting cars or motorbikes being purchased and used.
  • As the mobility system will be increasingly digitalized, data-sharing will become increasingly important. Data will also be needed to understand how mobility systems are running. A mutual understanding will need to be found with industry partners to encourage them to share their data. If an understanding can’t be found, cities will have to rely on legislation, including legislation passed at EU level.
  • Amsterdam is at the forefront of developing Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), and has started several pilot projects in the city, notably the MaaS Amsterdam Zuidas, which allows people to reach Amsterdam’s large financial and business district south of the city with MaaS solutions. The city is also investigating a country-wide permit for ride-sharing companies so they can offer rides across cities.

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 can make the most out of the upcoming regulations included in the European Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy? Feel free to reach out and discuss opportunities over a (virtual) coffee.

You might also be interested in:

Smart mobility within cities: benefits and challenges

The future of the EU transport sector (2021-2024) – four trends

Key takeaways of the first Dr2 Consultant’s Breakfast Meeting with Uber

Key takeaways of the first Dr2 Consultant’s Breakfast Meeting with Uber

Main takeaways

Cities have an important role to play in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and in reaching the goals of the European Green Deal. 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 itself the goal of achieving 100 European climate-neutral cities by 2030. In this context, Dr2 Consultants organized a series of 30-minute breakfast meetings on sustainable and smart mobility in European cities. During these sessions, Dr2 Consultants engages in lively one-on-ones with several European and business stakeholders to discuss topical subjects in EU urban mobility, especially focusing on the challenges that cities need to overcome to become climate neutral and stimulate automated and shared mobility. During the first Breakfast Meeting, we discussed the role of automated and shared mobility in the green and digital transformation of the transport sector with Zuzana Púčiková, head of EU Public Policy at Uber.

 The main takeaways from the webinar are:

  • The COVID-19 health emergency is a major challenge for everyone, including Uber whose business was significantly reduced. However, the pandemic also gave us a glimpse of what less congested and polluted cities could look like, and how Uber can play its role to build back better;
  • The work of transit agencies has been especially important, shifting from a role of transport provider to mobility manager. The pandemic was an opportunity to integrate and complement transit networks with services such as Uber, with authorities now taking a holistic approach to making transport more accessible, equitable and efficient. This enables them to be much more ‘nimble’, and address the challenges of today and tomorrow;
  • Given the urgent need to reduce transport emissions and to drive green recovery, Uber committed to becoming climate neutral by 2040, and by 2030 across US, Europe and Canada. Across seven key European cities it aims to become 50% electric already by 2025. However, in order for transport to become more sustainable, we need to reduce the reliance of households on private cars;
  • In combination with transit, shared mobility can be a solution. Uber applauds the Commission’s forward-looking approach to shared mobility, such as the recognition of ride-hailing as key, safe and sustainable mobility solution, as well as clarifying legal status of ride-hailing platforms, addressing fragmented national rules and assessing the possibility to create a single market for ride-hailing services in the EU.

Dr2 Consultants’ Breakfast Meetings

Curious how European cities, the European Commission and other stakeholders intend to overcome the challenges of making the transformation to smart cities a success? Join Dr2 Consultants’ series of breakfast meetings on 17 February and 3 March 2021, during which we will engage in a dialogue with stakeholders to discuss the identified challenges.

Update on Belgian federal government negotiations

Towards a “Vivaldi-coalition”

In early September, and for the first time in months, there were positive signs that a majority could be found in Belgium willing to form a federal government. After several attempts over the summer that mainly focused on a “purple-yellow” coalition (consisting of the traditional parties, the socialists, liberals and Christian democrats and the Flemish nationalist party N-VA) and a “Vivaldi” coalition (consisting of the traditional parties and the green parties), it was clear that the latter was the more likely to succeed. However, in nearing the end of September, and after several “informateurs”, “koninklijke opdrachthouders/Chargés de mission royale” and “preformateurs”, every possible coalition remains fragile. This has been especially clear since the weekend of 19 and 20 September.

Already a fragile coalition

The first test for the current Vivaldi group, which started negotiations in August, was the collective expression of support by the chairs of the Vivaldi parties for the current Wilmès II government on 17 September, in absence of a new government. In normal circumstances, the Wilmès II government should have resigned by 21 September, or at least sought a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives, as the current minority government only received support for a limited time of 6 months to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Due to the support of the Vivaldi coalition parties, Wilmès II will govern an additional two weeks, until 1 October.

So far so good, and therefore the weekend of 19 and 20 was crucial to finally launch the Vivaldi coalition, most notably with the introduction of a new Prime Minister. The very first conversation on this topic already proved to be divisive as several parties claimed the position of Prime Minister based on different arguments, such as who is the biggest political family or who is the biggest party in Flanders, as there were already two consecutive Walloon Prime Ministers the past legislatures. That this would be a hard nut to crack was already known, but the president of the Walloon liberals (MR), George-Louis Bouchez, really made the bomb burst as he stated in an interview on 20 September that he was certain that the current Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmès (MR) would stay on. Once again Bouchez provoked his colleagues with personal interviews and tweets. Especially the Flemish socialists (sp.a) were upset and reacted on 21 September that they do not want to continue the coalition talks with the MR.

Despite these difficulties, “preformateurs” Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) and Conner Rousseau (sp.a) spent a whole afternoon on 21 September trying to save the Vivaldi coalition. Because that did not work, the “preformateurs” decided to go to King Philippe to offer their resignation. However, the King refused that resignation, which is rather an exception. It seems that by refusing this resignation, King Philippe wants to force a new government, but this is only a short-lived tactic. Lachaert and Rousseau will report again by Wednesday 23 September at the latest.

Time is running out

The question is if the remaining days are enough to boost the viability of a possible Vivaldi coalition. Timewise it is getting very difficult to have a new government in place by 1 October, when the Wilmès II Government must resign. This would mean that by the end of this week or latest the beginning of next week the basis of the new government agreement must be approved. The different party congresses could follow after that and the new Prime Minister can make the government statement by 1 October. A vote of confidence in the new government could follow by 3 October.

Alternative?

It is not clear if the Vivaldi group will survive this week. The parties have definitely made it very difficult for themselves by setting a deadline on 1 October. N-VA chairman Bart De Wever expects the Vivaldi parties will continue their attempt to form a government. De Wever made clear that he and his party are ready for opposition as he stated on 21 September: “We will destroy them from the opposition.”

An alternative coalition is of course still possible, but the relationships between a lot of parties have become bitter, especially between the N-VA and the liberal parties. However, a workable alternative could be a Vivaldi coalition without the MR and the Walloon Christian democrats from cdH instead. However, Lachaert has not been prepared to drop his Walloon counterpart so far.

If this is not possible, then there is still the possibility of new elections. As there is still a health crisis ongoing and new elections will not magically bring the solution (especially because populist parties like Vlaams Belang (extreme-right Flemish party) and PVDA/PTB (extreme-left party in Wallonia) will gain new seats according to the latest polls and the other parties do not want to cooperate with them), this remains very unlikely. However, after 486 days of having no federal government with a majority in the House of Representatives, pressure is growing.

The novelties of the new EU budget

On Tuesday, after almost five days of negotiations, the 27 Member States of the EU reached an agreement on a €1,074 trillion Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), as well as a €750 billion Recovery Fund (Next Generation EU, or ‘NGEU’) for the period of 2021-2027.

The MFF sets out the EU budget for the coming seven years, setting funding priorities and dividing money amongst the different instruments. The long-term budget will, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, be accompanied by the so-called Recovery Fund called ‘Next Generation EU’. The NGEU will in part add additional funds to the existing European funding instruments, but also provide direct loans and grants to those Member States hardest hit by the pandemic.

Member States must leave behind their reservations on taxes and common debts

As was the case in previous EU budgets, Member States contribute a percentage of their gross national income (GNI) to the MFF. The funding of NGEU will, however, be unprecedented in the history of the EU, as it will be funded by the Union as a whole assuming loans on the capital markets. The EU-27 will borrow, through the European Commission, money from the capital markets. This means low interest rates, as all 27 Member States guarantee the loan.

Additionally, the loans will be repaid in part by raising the ‘own resources’ of the EU. These own resources will range from income from an EU-wide plastics tax to the introduction of a digital or financial transaction tax, a novelty in European tax policy where Member States traditionally firmly hold the reins.

Digital high on the agenda, or not?

The digital transition will remain one of the focal points of the EU budget. As such, important funding instruments such as Horizon Europe and Digital Europe are set to receive more funding compared to the current (2014-2020) budget, but less compared to the Commission proposal from May this year. The Digital Europe program, which finances the EU’s cyber defense and artificial intelligence development, will receive €6.80 billion during the coming seven years, a major increase compared to the millions it received in the previous financial framework. However, the proposed fund by the European Council is lower than the program was set to receive in the Commission proposal. Member States aim to streamline existing instruments into the InvestEU program. However, the new agreement downsizes the InvestEU budget to €8.40 billion compared to earlier proposals from the European Commission.

While the digital transition remains high on the agenda, the new EU budget does not draw exact parallels to the EU’s ambitiousness. While the current foreseen budget is higher compared to the current MFF, it lacks the firepower foreseen in the Commission proposal from May to push the EU to become a frontrunner in this area.

Sustainability as a main catalyst

The European Green Deal will also remain one of the main pillars of the EU budget in the European Council’s agreement. According to the new proposal, at least 30% of the total EU expenditure will have to contribute to climate objectives. The question remains exactly how the institutions will enforce the climate funding objective since the European Council remains very vague on the subject, a worry which is shared by the European Parliament.

In this context, the European Council invites the Commission to put forwards proposals for:

  • A carbon border adjustment mechanism, which will prevent the transfer of the production of goods to non-EU countries who happen to have less strict emission rules and ambitions;
  • A levy on non-recycled plastic waste, to be introduced in January 2021, of €0.80 per kilogram to discourage the generation of non-recycled plastic waste;
  • The revision of the Emission Trading System (ETS), to include a smaller amount of emission allowances in order to further boost carbon cuts and a possible extension to the maritime sectors.

Contrarily, the budget suffered several significant cuts during the negotiations in the sustainability policy area compared to the original proposal. For example, the flagship Just Transition Fund, intended to support carbon-intensive regions in the transition to a sustainable economy model, was heavily downsized from €40 billion to €17.5 billion.

Next steps

In order have the new EU budget operational by 1 January 2021, both the European Parliament as well as the national parliaments of the Member States need to approve the European Council’s proposal. However, both have voiced their skepticism towards the compromise that was reached. In the Member States, especially the national parliaments of the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are expected to take a critical stance. Starting September, we expect to have more clarity on the shape of next year’s budget. In an extraordinary plenary session on 23 July, the European Parliament passed a resolution voicing criticism of the EU budget deal in its current form.

Want to know more about the EU budget negotiations, COVID-19, or other dossiers that might affect your business? Please contact Dr2 Consultants to see what we can do for you.