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European Year of Rail: 2021 – boost to a modal shift

The EU institutions declared 2021 as the European Year of Rail but what will next year exactly entail and how can stakeholders take advantage of this initiative? In this blog post, Dr2 Consultants highlights how the rail sector will be put in the limelight as of January.

Every calendar year since 1983 (with the exception of 2016 and 2017) marks a new ‘European Year’ with a different theme during each iteration. The European Years span across a wide range of subjects such as development aid (2015), mobility of employees (2006) languages (2001), etc. 2021, has been declared the European Year of Rail.

The main goal of designating ‘European Years’ is to increase the visibility of certain industries and to promote a political momentum to bring around significant changes. The practical aspects mostly entail media campaigns and stakeholder events targeting both European citizens as well as businesses and other stakeholders. In some cases, the European Commission also uses this opportunity to put forward new legislation.

What the European Year of Rail will look like?

In March 2020, the European Commission published a proposal for a decision to designate 2021 as the European Year of Rail. Rail plays an important role in the Commission’s plans in decarbonizing the transport sector, as it is referred to in the European Green Deal as the most sustainable and therefore preferred mode of transport. Moreover, the rail sector has also taken a prominent place in the COVID-19 recovery phase as enabler of the green recovery.

The Commission’s proposal was quickly followed by inter-institutional consultations between the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the EU, where an agreement was reached on the final text on 12 November. The agreement includes a final budget for the year of €8 million, which is higher than previous proposals. While a comprehensive list of the activities is still yet to be published, following an advice taken up in the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee (TRAN) report on the proposal for decision, the Commission has been tasked with conducting two studies into concrete proposals to stimulate both freight as well as passenger related rail transport. Even though the final text of the decision is basically set in stone, it has to be approved by the European Parliament plenary (date still to be determined) and the meeting of the European Transport ministers in the Transport Council of 8 December.

Impact on the rail sector

Designating 2021 as the European Year of Rail is in line with the European Commission’s priorities on making transport more sustainable. Stakeholders from the rail sector have unique opportunities in shaping the policy agenda for the years to come, meaning that it will be imperative for them to seize this momentum as much as possible.

Several key initiatives for the transport and rail sector will be central in 2021. Firstly, actively providing input on the execution of the policy initiatives mentioned in the Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility (planned to be published on 8 December 2020) will be crucial in shaping the rail sector for years to come. Secondly, in June 2021 the TEN-T Days will be organized by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, which will be an important moment to influence the TEN-T revision and future targeted rail infrastructure investments. Lastly, highlighting important European routes in the Action Plan on rail corridors (Q3 2021), which will aim to facilitate better connections between European capitals and the modal shift, will increase efficiency and connectivity on the trajectories most important to stakeholders actively lobbying on the file. Activities surrounding these proposals, ranging from formal consultations to stakeholder dialogue events and communication campaigns will be initiated on all different levels (European, national, regional and local).

EU Affairs Training - 28 January 2021

In parallel to the policy initiatives, there will be other initiatives that highlight the momentum for rail. This year, a coalition of 25 Member States have set up the International Rail Passenger Platform, in which governments and the industry come together to make meaningful steps on the topics of infrastructure development and passenger services (i.e. ticketing). In addition, Germany has initiated the revival of the once popular TransEuropExpress, with launching a study on high-speed rail transport and night trains. The arts festival Europalia will dedicate its 2021 edition to the influence of railways on arts and their contribution to socio-economic change.

Opportunities for stakeholders in the European Year of Rail

As the focus of 2021 will be on setting the agenda for a modal shift to rail transport, European stakeholders can utilize the stage set by European institutions for rail-related issues to further elaborate and market their ideas and solutions. As the European Commission will be responsible for rolling out of communication and marketing campaigns, being aware of the latest events and actively engaging with the European institutions to be the first guest or participant of choice will be a crucial step to take to be more visible and effective. The industry will be able to fulfil a much needed role in the Commission’s campaigns, providing substance and content-driven input. Additionally, European businesses can initiate their own communication campaigns, which link to the existing media-related initiatives in the context of the European Year of Rail. This will greatly increase the effectiveness and reach of these campaigns, increasing their value and efficiency, and resulting in more value for money.

As mentioned earlier, the European Commission will be conducting two studies. Accompanying stakeholder consultations are expected in the first half of 2021, focused on the viability of a European label to promote goods transported by rail and the development of a rail connectivity index for rail passenger transport. The outcome of these studies will influence legislation for years to come, meaning that taking a proactive role is imperative. These consultation moments are also an opportunity to increase the network of Public Affairs professionals within the European Commission. It is therefore key to be aware of the latest consultations, even if they might not be public, to know who to engage with within the institutions and to effectively promote Public Affairs messages.

Moment to act

Dr2 Consultants has built solid expertise and network by providing support to transport stakeholders from rail and aviation to the maritime sector. We tailor our services, knowledge and expertise to support organizations in the most bespoke way and achieve tangible results. To successfully capitalize on the current political momentum and seize the opportunities provided by the European Year of Rail in 2021, please get in touch with us through our website.

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