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From Green Deal to Green Recovery

While the COVID-19 crisis has seen unprecedented challenges for the European transport sector, it also demonstrated the crucial role transport plays to ensure an uninterrupted supply of goods and services across Europe. Although the recovery of the sector is of vital importance of Europe’s economy, the recovery from the crisis also provides a momentum for the industry to act on the ambition of decarbonization and reaching climate neutrality by 2050. As put forward in the Commission’s EU Recovery Plan, the COVID-19 recovery phase should be used to pave the way towards not only a resilient and reliable transport sector, but also a sustainable one that is at the heart of the European Green Deal.

Following the publication of the Commission’s plan for recovery – dubbed as ‘Next Generation EU’ – as well as its updated Work Program for 2020, we have a clearer picture how the greening of the sector will unfold in the coming years. Dr2 Consultants’ transport team presents four take-aways for sustainable transport that will dominate the EU’s policy agenda in the years to come.

1. Alternative fuels, sustainable vehicles

Alternative fuels are a key priority for the Commission to cut emissions and create jobs. The EU’s executive arm aims to accelerate the production of low-emission fuels and the deployment of sustainable vehicles and vessels. In order to finance this, public investment should come with a commitment from the industry to invest in cleaner and more sustainable mobility.

The roadmaps for the further deployment of different fuel types are expected to be part of the highly-anticipated FuelEU proposals – to be published later this year – that will aim at increasing the use of alternative fuels in the maritime and aviation sector. Furthermore, in early 2021, the Commission will put forward the revision of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, which will ensure the development of the necessary infrastructure across Member States to stimulate the uptake of sustainable fuels for all transport modes. 

2. The convergence of the energy and mobility systems

In order to decarbonize the transport sector, no stone is currently left unturned. Although electrification seems to be the most viable option on the short term, hydrogen is dubbed as the energy source for the future. The Commission’s flagship instrument for research and innovation, Horizon Europe, will be instrumental to kick-start the clean hydrogen revolution. The Commission has increased its budget in the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) with €13.5 billion, bringing Horizon Europe’s new budget to a total of €94.4 billion.

Later this month, the Commission will launch the Clean Hydrogen Alliance to stimulate the upscaling of clean hydrogen production in Europe. Also, the work of the European Battery Alliance will be accelerated. On 24 June, the Hydrogen Strategy is expected to be published.

3. Cities at the heart of sustainable mobility

With over 70% of EU citizens currently living in urban areas, achieving sustainability in cities across Europe is one of the main challenges of the recovery period. As a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis, noise pollution and air quality figures have dropped to an unprecedented level. Moreover, cities reinvented the way citizens move around, e.g. by giving priorities to pedestrians, introducing speed limits for vehicles and implementing new cycling lanes. The shift towards smart and more livable cities, therefore, places a big responsibility on the transport sector.

The Commission aims to increase the support for zero and low-emission mobility in cities by investing significantly in clean urban mobility. Funding calls in the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and InvestEU programs will focus on clean fleet renewals by cities, the deployment of charging points and mobility-as-a-service solutions.

4. Taxation, anyone?

In the Next Generation EU, the Commission proposes to generate additional own resources by new taxes. Although the Commission still must draw up the specifics, it floated the option of extending the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to the maritime sector, thereby raising up to €10 billion annually that will feed into the EU’s budget. In addition, the so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism is likely to be introduced, putting a carbon levy on non-EU imports.

Raising these kinds of ‘European’ taxes is unprecedented. As Member States have diverging views on this matter, it remains to be seen whether we can expect a breakthrough on these new own resources any time soon.

Next steps

The Commission aims to have the new MFF and recovery fund operational by 1 January 2021. EU leaders are expected to start the negotiations on the budget proposal during the European Council Summit on 19 June and will have multiple rounds of very difficult talks until a compromise is made. This ultimately means that the budget as proposed now for transport-related funding instruments can still change. The budget negotiations are expected to accelerate when Germany takes over the rotating six-months Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July 2020.

The EU Budget proposal and its impact on the digital sector

On 27 May, the European Commission put forward its proposal for a major recovery plan. The plan includes not only a proposal for the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 – The EU budget powering the recovery plan for Europe, but the European Commission also proposes to create a new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU.

Next Generation EU, with a budget of €750 billion, together with targeted reinforcements to the 2021-2027 EU budget with a proposed budget of €1.1 trillion, will bring the total financial firepower of the EU budget to €1.85 trillion. Including other schemes such as Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (Commission’s safety net for workers), the European Stability Mechanism Pandemic Crisis Support (Eurozone’s enhanced credit line) and the European Investment Bank Guarantee Fund for Workers and Businesses (focused primarily on small and medium-sized companies), with a combined budget of €540 billion, significant funds will be available for European recovery.

Next Generation EU will raise money by temporarily lifting the European Commission’s own resources ceiling to 2.00% of EU Gross National Income, allowing the Commission to use its strong credit rating to borrow €750 billion on the financial markets. To help do this in a fair and shared way, the Commission proposes a number of new own resources among which extension of the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) to include maritime and aviation sectors, a carbon border adjustment mechanism, a digital tax and a tax on large enterprises.

Finally, the Commission has published an update of its 2020 Work Program, which will prioritize the actions needed to propel Europe’s recovery and resilience.

The future is digital

The outbreak of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digitization across all areas of the economy and society. New technologies have helped businesses and public services to keep functioning and have made sure that international trade could continue. It is expected that, in the long run, the pandemic will have triggered permanent social and economic changes: more remote working, e-learning, e-commerce, e-government. It has, therefore, become imperative for businesses and governments to invest in digitalization.

The twin transitions to a green and digital Europe remain the defining challenges of this generation. This is reflected throughout the Commission’s proposals, which stress that investing in digital infrastructure and skills will help boost competitiveness and technological sovereignty.

Implications for the digital sector

A new instrument, the Solvency Support instrument would be primarily aimed at countries hit hardest by the crisis and unable to provide state aid to their most vulnerable sectors. The distribution of this ‘immediate and temporary’[1] tool will also aim to prioritize green investment according to the Commission. While welcomed by poorer countries the instrument might not have the desired effect unless agreed upon and deployed quickly by the Member States.

The Strategic Investment Facility will be used to promote the green and digital transitions by investing in 5G, artificial intelligence, the industrial internet of things, low CO2 emission industry and cybersecurity. Since such investments might become significantly riskier in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Commission stands behind a common European approach to provide the crucial long-term investments for companies implementing projects of strategic importance. The Strategic Investment Facility will take a more forward-looking approach by focusing on ‘projects relevant for achieving strategic autonomy in key value chains in the single market.

The Digital Europe Programme will be used for the development of EU-wide electronic identities and for the building of strategic data capabilities, such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, secured communication, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, supercomputers, quantum and blockchain. The Commission has managed to withstand the significant pressure from Member States to reduce the funding of the Programme and the digital transition remains one of its key priorities.

In terms of financial inputs, the digital sector would be affected by two of the newly proposed taxes, aimed at funding the Commission’s so called ‘own resources’ used to repay the recovery package. The new digital tax would come into play at EU level if no global solution could be reached at OECD level. If the tax is applied to companies with an annual turnover higher than €750 million, it could generate up to €1.3 billion per year for the EU budget. The other relevant provision is the new corporate revenue tax, which if applied according to the same principle as the digital tax at a rate of 0.1 percent could generate up to €10 billion annually.

The Commission tried to introduce a European digital tax last year but its proposal was blocked by several Member States. The chance of such a proposal being accepted at this date appear slim as unanimity is required and Ireland, amongst others, has been adamantly against it. However, with the departure of the UK who had previously provided strong backing for Ireland’s opposition, some form of digital taxation being accepted remains a possibility. The new corporate tax was also previously unsuccessfully introduced by the Commission in 2016 and would be aimed at ‘companies that draw huge benefits from the EU single market and will survive the crisis.’[2] The chances of the proposal being accepted are also relatively low with countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands strongly opposing it. The proposal might also provoke a ‘race to the bottom’ phenomenon where companies relocate to countries willing to provide them with the most favorable business conditions. While both taxes are facing strong opposition from some Member States, the alternative of increased national contributions might convince leaders that accepting a form of these levies would be the more politically savvy option.

In conclusion, the new EU budget proposal creates new opportunities and challenges for the digital sector with the potential application of new pan-European taxes but also with additional funding devoted to digitalization, increased connectivity and sustainable value chains. The Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the increasing importance of digitalisation for the daily functioning of the economy and the Commission’s proposal reflects that through a series of digital political priorities. Increased connectivity, investment in strategic digital capacities (artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, blockchain and more) building a real data economy and legislative efforts on data sharing (a EU-wide Data Act), as well as a thorough reform of the single market for digital services (Digital Services Act expected in late 2020). The combination of budgetary provisions and policy priorities makes the moment beneficial for a transition to online business models, a trend which has appeared during the pandemic but is expected to remain for the next few years.

[1] Annex to the Commission Budget Communication, p 6.

[2] Commission Budget Communication, p 15.

Brexit: impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the latest negotiatons rounds

During the last two months, the world has come to a stop because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Trade negotiations have not been exempted, and the EU-UK negotiations have been severely affected. As the virus broke out in Europe, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tested positive for the coronavirus and only a day later the UK chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost self-isolated, together with other key members of the negotiation teams. This obviously casted a shadow of doubt on the future of the negotiations, when expectations were already quite limited concerning what could be achieved in such a short amount of time.

Despite the major disruption, and the delay taken in the negotiations, the EU and the UK resumed the Brexit discussions on 15 April. During that call they agreed on negotiating rounds lasting a full week during the weeks of 20 April, 11 May and 1 June.

After the negotiations round of 20 April, Michel Barnier immediately expressed his disappointment regarding the progress of the talks, specifically on key issues such level playing field and fisheries. The UK, too, recognized the lack of progress on governance and level playing field and stressed that there cannot be any deal until the EU drops its insistence on imposing conditions on the UK which are not found in any other EU trade agreements.

Unfolding a blaming game between the UK and the EU, where Britain accuses the EU of treating the UK as “unworthy” partner in the negotiations, Michel Barnier blaming the UK for not being realistic and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan adding that the UK would be ready to accept a no-deal, while blaming the failure to reach a deal on the impact of COVID-19 on the negotiations

However, according to Frost, a comprehensive free-trade agreement is within reach, alongside individual agreements on issues such as law enforcement, nuclear energy, and aviation. On 19 May the UK Government published 12 legal texts on several of the above mentioned issues which will be the basis of the last negotiations rounds in June, following the EU’s publication its own draft trade deal earlier this year.This new UK text appears to be both surpringly ambitious in certain areas (for example, equivalence provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade) and less surprinsingly, lacking ambition on regulatory cooperation and level playing field.

Extension of Brexit?

As stated above, there will be only one additional negotiation round before the agreed high-level stock-taking conference, where the UK and the EU are supposed to determine whether enough progress has been made or if an extension to the transition period is required in order to reach an agreement.

Such an extension would have to be requested by the UK Government, and agreed by the European Council before 1 July. However, the UK has consistently made clear that it will not ask to extend the transition period as it would only prolong the negotiations, business uncertainty, and delay the moment at which the UK can take back control of its sovereignty.

With the lack of progress, how the events will unfold in the coming two months remain extremely uncertain, while pressure on both sides of the channel grow in favor of an extension.

Reinstating the European transport sector

Following weeks, during which containment measures rapidly succeeded each other, the focus of the EU institutions is now on shifting towards re-establishing transport services and connectivity in the EU. The relief measures of 8 May (more information below) and the package of guidelines of 13 May and recommendations are considered to be important milestones in the recovery of the sector.

Nonetheless, the recovery phase is far from crystallized. Important discussions are still taking place in various European Parliamentary committees and Council configurations, focusing amongst others on maintaining a level-playing field between the different modes of transport, safeguarding passenger rights (e.g. reimbursement of tickets) and aligning the recovery measures with the EU’s climate objectives.

The Commission is expected to present a new proposal on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027 on 20 May, although this is not a definitive date. The amount of the overall budget and the allocation of funds will provide more clarity about the financing of the recovery of the transport sector.

Herewith you can find an overview of recent contingency and recovery measures in the transport sector. For a detailed analysis of the developments below, please get in touch with us via our website.

Transport relief measures

The European Commission is working together with Member States on transport relief measures, covering all modes of transport, which the European Parliament is expected to approve during its extraordinary plenary session of 13-15 May. Among the measures are (1) an aviation relief package, (2) an omnibus legislative proposal for the extension of certificates and (driving) licenses, (3) the postponement of the transposition deadline of the Fourth Railway Package and (4) an amendment to the Port Services Regulation, which allows reduced infrastructure charges in the maritime sector.

Communication on lifting travel restrictions

On 13 May, the European Commission presented a package of guidelines and recommendations to advise Member States on gradually lifting travel restrictions and allow tourism businesses to reopen, after months of lockdown, while respecting necessary health precautions. The Commission’s communication consists of several documents, including:

  • A common approach to restoring free movement and lifting restrictions at EU internal borders in a gradual and coordinated way;
  • A framework to support the gradual re-establishment of transport whilst ensuring the safety of passenger and personnel;
  • A recommendation which aims to make travel vouchers an attractive alternative to cash reimbursements for consumers;
  • Criteria for restoring tourism activities safely and for developing health protocols for hospitality establishments.

These Commission guidelines are non-binding, as Member States can decide unilaterally on border controls and restrictions. However, the Commission aims to coordinate their efforts to achieve the freedom of movement as much as possible by facilitating cross-border coordination.

Commissioner Timmermans in TRAN Committee

On 11 May, an exchange of views was held in the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) with Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans on the future of the transport sector in the framework of the European Green Deal and in the context of economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Timmermans stated during the discussions that:

  • Serious investments are needed to maintain a strong EU transport sector, including private investments, to save jobs and successfully achieve a zero-emission society by 2050;
  • Actors in the transport sector receiving financial or state aid from Member States, should be compelled to ‘give back to society’ in return for this aid, such as increasing efforts in the field of sustainability;
  • The European Commission will conduct an impact assessment in September 2020 to further analyze raising the emission reduction goal for 2030 from 50% to 55%.

Read summary

Commissioner Vălean in ENVI Committee

The European Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean exchanged views on 11 May with the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee of the European Parliament on sustainable transport after the COVID-19 pandemic. The main takeaways of the discussions were:

  • The recovery phase will focus on making transport smarter and cleaner;
  • The European Green Deal objectives must be sustained, Europe must stay ambitious;
  • In the context of the debate on conditionality to receiving state aid, the Commission will introduce transparency requirements for large companies, to report how the aid helps to meet European ambitions on green and digital transitions;
  • On passenger rights, right of reimbursement is still a primary right. A voucher system could be introduced, but the passenger will always have the right to be reimbursed.

Read summary

Dr2 Consultants hosts webinar on competitiveness of transport sector post COVID-19

Main takeaways

The COVID-19 outbreak has seen an unprecedented impact on the transport sector in the EU. Due to national containment measures, travel restrictions and the closure of border crossings, passenger transport is at a standstill and trade flows are severely impacted. In order to help EU citizens and businesses, the Commission has issued several contingency measures to support the transport sector, e.g. by identifying green freight lanes, issuing guidelines on passenger rights and allowing financial relief under the temporary state aid framework.

In this context, Dr2 Consultants organized a dedicated transport webinar on 7 May 2020, focusing on the question how to reinstate the EU’s transport industry in a post COVID-19 era, in order to ensure the transport sector can enable economic growth, secure jobs, increase global competitiveness and allow people and goods to move across Europe and beyond. Mr. Daniel Mes, Member of the Cabinet of Executive Vice-President on the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, responsible for the transport portfolio, and Mr. Jan-Christoph Oetjen, Member of the European Parliament (Renew Europe) and Vice-Chair of the Committee for Transport and Tourism took part in the panel discussion and shared their views on the subject.

 

The main takeaways from the webinar are:

  • The Commission is working on a coordinated exit strategy in which all modes of transport are covered, including practical advice on how to restart operations while ensuring the safety of the passengers;
  • It is crucial that the transport sector returns to its old strength and becomes even more resilient. It is a joint effort by the EU and its Member States to ensure the European transport sector remains competitive on a global level;
  • Mr. Mes highlighted the need for political guidance when national measures are taken to ensure consistency in sectoral investments. The transport sector will be dependent on both public as well as private investments, which the Commission will aim to mobilize;
  • Both speakers highlighted that transport will be one of the main pillars in the green recovery of the European economy. Mr. Oetjen emphasized the need for using a mix of transport modes based on their characteristics and respective advantages. Mr. Mes stated that it is key to ensure that the recovery of the transport sector is green recovery, and conditions can be attached to financial aid received by the sector.

As the webinar was recorded, please find the playback link here.

As a next step, the Commission is expected to publish a follow-up to its ‘European roadmap towards lifting coronavirus containment measures on Wednesday 13 May, which will entail a broad package of recommendations aimed at reinstating connectivity and tourism. The package will include a Communication on tourism, protocols on health and safety for main tourism locations, guidance on safe and healthy resumption of passenger transport and guidance on lifting of international borders. The package is also expected to include an assessment of the application of the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU.

COVID-19 services

The fight against the spread of COVID-19 has unprecedented consequences for the daily life of almost everyone and puts pressure on the global economy. The crisis leads to questions and uncertainty, while companies try to anticipate and mitigate the impact on their daily business operations. Dr2 Consultants offers clarity to companies during the COVID-19 crisis. Please check out our webpage to explore the possibilities for your company.