Now that the President-elect of the new European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen unveiled her team of candidate-Commissioners and the subsequent portfolio distribution, it is time to determine its priorities in the field of transport. The most notable feature in the plans of the Commission is the push for decarbonization in the transport sector in order to comply with the climate objectives as set out in the EU’s 2050 Climate Strategy. So, what is exactly expected in the coming five years?
New structure, new responsibilities
Within the new structure of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans has been proposed as one of the top candidates of the Commission, responsible for realizing the European Green Deal, according to which Europe should be climate-neutral by 2050.
In his new role as Executive Vice-President, Timmermans will coordinate the work of multiple Commissioners, such as Transport, Energy and Agriculture, and their respective contributions towards the Green Deal. Moreover, Timmermans will have direct access to the Directorate-General of Climate Action, which will give him more influence in initiating and implementing legislations. Timmermans is expected to present his first outline of the European Green Deal in early December, in which more details are expected on how transport should contribute to the climate objectives. Frans Timmermans will be heard by the Parliamentary Committees on 8 October.
Decarbonization and the legislative framework
Following the publication of the new Commission’s policy priorities, von der Leyen has set out the priorities for each Commissioner-designate in a dedicated mission letter. According to von der Leyen, transport is at the intersection of the climate and digital transition. The priorities for the next Transport Commissioner should be to ensure sustainable, safe and affordable transport, in which emissions are further reduced. The following policy measures can be expected from the next Transport Commissioner:
- Strong focus on completing the missing infrastructure links in the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). This should help to smoothen connections in logistic chains and stimulate cross-border transport, i.e. by high-speed train connections;
- Comprehensive review of existing legislation to align it with the EU’s climate ambitions. In concrete terms, this means breaking up the Energy Taxation Directive and subsequent voting procedures (currently by unanimity), as well as extending the EU’s Emission Trading System (ETS) to the maritime sector and reducing free allowances for airlines;
- The new Transport Commissioner is asked to also stimulate global solutions besides the European routers, within the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), to avoid hampering the competitiveness of the European transport sector;
- For road transport policy proposals are expected on the alternative fuels- and EV-infrastructure, as well as new policy regarding road safety and autonomous vehicles.
Perspective of the Member States
The European Commission has ambitious objectives to decarbonize transport, but what about the commitment of the Member States? The EU’s 2050 climate strategy was the centerpiece of the Transport Council of 20 September. Despite an ambitious agenda of the new Commission, Member States seem to have diverging views on the proposed actions for the different transport sectors.
For the road, maritime and aviation sectors, decarbonization is a central theme for the European Commission as well as for the Ministers of Transport. However, there was no explicit majority support during the Transport Council meeting for an extension of the Emission Trading System to the maritime sector, even though the new Commission states this as one of their key ambitions. Secondly, although the new Commission aims to reduce ETS allowances for the aviation sector, the Transport Council meeting also highlighted the lack of support from the Member States for an extension of the current ETS regime for the aviation sector (ending the so-called “stop the clock” measure). Multiple Member States agreed that, for now, the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) are the first-choice platforms to reach decarbonization goals. Moreover, changing the voting rules within the Energy Taxation Directive to be able to pass taxation legislation without unanimity from the Member States, is not expected to get support in the Council since Member States prefer taxation measures to remain a national competence.
On rail transport, there is an overall consensus among Member States on the ‘switch to rail’ as a desirable modality shift. As of this moment, fragmentation of national systems and lack of cooperation on cross-border railway connections impede the rise of the train as a more convenient transport mode. The Member States expect investments needed for the development of rail infrastructure through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).
When it comes down to politicized dossiers such as the Energy Taxation Directive and extending the EU’s Emissions Trading System, Member States are currently not on the same page as the European Commission. It remains to be seen how the Commission will pursue its agenda and get the necessary support in the Council. More details are expected during the hearings of the Commissioners-designate in the European Parliament.