On 14 July 2015, Luxembourg's Minister for Sustainable Development and Infrastructure, François Bausch, presented the priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency in the field of transport to the Committee on 'Transport and Tourism' (TRAN) of the European Parliament.
The Fourth Railway Package
François Bausch stated to MEPs that the Railway Package will be a 'key issue' over the next six months. He thanked the Latvian Presidency and the European Parliament for all the 'hard work' carried out on the technical pillar which will allow the Luxembourg Presidency to 'concentrate on the political pillar' of the Railway Package, namely the issue of governance and public service contracts. "Our objective is to promote rail transport, improve the quality of our railways and to stimulate better performance in Europe in the field of rail transport", he stated. "In the coming months we need to keep focused on this objective in order to reach an agreement which takes the specific circumstances of the different Member States into account", added the Minister, who remains convinced that an agreement will be reached 'in either October or December'.
"As for aviation, I do not need to explain to you where the difficulties lie", continued François Bausch to MEPs. "These issues not only affect Transport Ministers, but also relate to general policy", so much so that it is "difficult to make progress", he stated. In practical terms, they concern air passengers' rights, slots and SES II, as well as agreements with third countries such as the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. "We will work informally on all these questions and issues in the field of aviation, but always with the caution that there are political issues beyond our mandate as Transport Ministers", stated the Minister. François Bausch wished, however, to 'reassure' MEPs by stating that the matter had already been 'discussed in detail' by the Latvian and Dutch Presidencies. He added that the Netherlands, the next Presidency of the Council, was 'ready to make every effort' to make progress on issues in the field of aviation and announced that an informal Council in January 2016 would be devoted to this matter.
COP21/ environmental issues
A major priority of the Luxembourg Presidency will be sustainable development. Two major events will be held: the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September in New York and the Paris Climate Conference COP21 in December. François Bausch is of the opinion that COP21 negotiations should lead to the adoption of a new and ambitious binding treaty. This treaty should seek to keep global warming below 2 degrees.
François Bausch stated that the Luxembourg Presidency will raise environmental questions relating to transport at the COP21 Climate Conference, given the "disastrous record on transport, which today is the only field in which there has not been a reduction in CO2 emissions, which have increased by 20% since 1990". The Minister is 'convinced' that a 'strong signal' will be sent to the transport sector during COP21.
François Bausch announced that the Luxembourg Presidency will organise a Ministerial debate in October on the pillars of European transport policy in the long-term. Ministers will have the opportunity to present their ideas to the Commission prior to its revision of the White Paper, scheduled for 2016.
In this respect, the objective of the Luxembourg Presidency is to promote efficient, safe, reliable and accessible mobility which is socially responsible. The Presidency also aims to support the development of a sustainable and innovative transport industry which generates high-quality employment.
Investment in infrastructure
François Bausch highlighted the importance of investment in transport infrastructure to MEPs. "I am convinced that investment in transport infrastructure falls under the economic area", he added, referring to the Juncker Investment Plan.
Urban mobility/ cycling
With regard to urban mobility, François Bausch takes the view that one potential solution to many problems is the bicycle. In his opinion, the bicycle has been 'greatly overlooked'. That is why the Luxembourg Presidency has decided to devote an informal ministerial meeting to the bicycle, scheduled for 7 October 2015 in Luxembourg.
"Closely linked to this matter is the issue of road safety, an area to which I attach a great deal of importance", stated François Bausch. The Minister intends to include this issue in all discussions on the White Paper, urban mobility and social issues.
Social issues in the field of road transport
The Luxembourg Presidency also intends to continue discussions on social aspects in the field of road transport, which is a 'delicate' subject according to the Minister. François Bausch is of the opinion that it is not a question of "asking what new regulations must be implemented in Europe", but rather how to ensure "a better application of existing regulations". During the Luxembourg Presidency, a ministerial debate on specific problems relating to the road traffic sector will be held at the December 2015 Council.
As for inland navigation, François Bausch welcomed the fact that the June Transport Council adopted a general approach on proposed technical requirements for inland waterway vessels. "We will launch interinstitutional negotiations quickly", he announced. "As positions are very close, an agreement should be easily reached", he observed.
"With regard to port services, the Luxembourg Presidency currently depends on the calendar of the European Parliament and notes that the opinion of the European Parliament at first reading will probably be available mid-December, that is to say at the end of our Presidency", observed François Bausch. The Presidency will 'make every effort' to organise a round table in order to gather the positions of the Member States on the amendments proposed by the European Parliament, in preparation for negotiations with the European Parliament, which are likely to be held under the Dutch Presidency.
Questions from MEPs
In response to questions from several MEPs on a possible failure of political negotiations on the Fourth Railway Package, François Bausch stated that such speculation does not form part of his 'optimistic and proactive approach'. "I want to move forward and reach an agreement without having to ask myself what happens if the negotiations fail", he said. "We are going to demonstrate how to reach an agreement on a text which will enable us to improve the quality and performance of rail transport", he added. "If we reach an agreement in October, we will immediately begin negotiations with the European Parliament", added the Minister. And if the Luxembourg Presidency does not manage to conclude negotiations with the European Parliament, the Dutch Presidency, which is 'fully involved in our work', will take over", said the Minister.
As for negotiations on issues in the field of aviation, François Bausch observed "that the general situation is very difficult" and that "there are 'obstacles' which have already been faced by previous presidencies". Nevertheless, the Luxembourg Presidency intends to 'try, at least informally, to make progress on all issues, prioritising air passengers' rights' which, according to François Bausch, has the greatest chance of success.
Asked about the financing of transport infrastructure, François Bausch stressed that, above all, this is an issue which concerns other configurations of the Council of the EU, as well as Commission officials.
As for the bicycle, François Bausch stated that the Luxembourg Presidency does not intend to launch discussions on new regulations in the field of cycling, knowing that this task falls to Member States, regions and cities. The objective is to acknowledge the economic value of the bicycle and to show what possibilities this mode of transport offers.
Concerning social issues in the field of road transport, François Bausch observed that the Presidency intends to see how to ensure a more effective application of the existing regulation.
Lastly, François Bausch stated that it is for the Commission to launch an initiative on the application of the German Minimum Wage law to the transport sector.