• Eva Faltusová

Greening EU transport policies: Past achievements, shortcomings & challenges for the recovery period

By Eva Faltusová

Transport in the European Union accounts for more than a quarter of the yearly greenhouse gas emissions, and since 1990 the emissions have increased by almost 28% despite the effort undertaken to mitigate its growth.[1] External effects such as noise, air pollution, and environmental degradation are accompanying transport too. Therefore, greening transport is a crucial task for the community, and as president von der Leyen said: “We need to change how we [..] travel and transport. “[2]

Transport policy is one of the oldest and most important components of the EU internal market, and is a shared competence under the provisions of the Treaty. [3] This policy is vital for fulfilment of the 4 freedoms, especially for the movement of goods, which are mostly exported intra-EU (between 50% to 75%). [4] Also, the transport sector employs more than 11 million people and represents 5 to 7% of the EU GDP. [5] Moreover, transport is nowadays a pivotal issue due to its energy consumption, since one third of the EU’s final energy goes to transport[6]. The biggest emitter is road transport, which generates 6 times more emissions and external costs than rail transport.[7] Growing demand, competition and price pressure turned this sector into a tough proposition for policymakers. This complex challenge of ensuring a functioning European Transport Area – which complies transports that are modern, safe, digitalized, sustainable, and reliable not only from economic but also from social and environmental perspectives – is a key part of the brand-new commission’s decarbonizing plan.

But before talking about the future, we should ask ourselves: what has the EU done in the past to make the transport policy “greener”? In which areas do these achievements have their limits and flaws? And lastly, how does the near future of post-pandemic recovery create a window of opportunity for a more sustainable way?

This short report will try to answer respectively these questions in the following 3 parts.

I. Past achievements

The EU has taken multiple steps to build a set of common rules and harmonise standards in all transport sectors. Historically, the White paper on the future of the common transport policy (1992) gave directions to the establishment of the two-layered all transport modes Trans-European Transport Network. TEN-T policy, based on current Regulation 1315/2013[8], addresses harmonization and connectivity in the first layer (comprehensive network) and then the core tackles issues of strategic importance such as social questions, infrastructures and approaches to the „model of the sustainable mobility”.

After this founding basis, the Euro vignette directive (1999) and White paper “European Transport policy for 2010: Time to decide” (2001) detailed the challenges of the “big enlargement” and subsequent worry about higher congestion volumes connected to environmental costs of increased transports – around 60 measures were designed and achieved since the EU revived the interlinkages and rail transport[9], succeed by the creation of Core Network corridors - where 2 of them -ERTMS[10] and Motorways of the Sea- are prioritized. Due to positive impact, policymakers endeavoured for more integration of environmental commitments and addressed congestion (§6.1).[11]

In 2007 a brand-new series of actions to inject more investment and respond to increase in freight transport was set by strategic objectives [12] Then, publication of White paper (2011) defined the cornerstone EU transport policy and established the Single European Transport area. This marked a real green step towards transport, which aims to reduce CO2 by 60% until 2050 and addresses cross-cutting issues.

Following the Paris Agreement (2015) the EC interlinked transport, energy, and climate policies in the Energy Union strategy (2015), Strategy for low-emission mobility (2016) and investment in new zero-emission technologies. As well, the three sets of initiatives of mobility packages were created to advocate for fair transition towards climate neutrality 2050, namely “A clean planet for All”, “Cooperative Intelligent Transport System” and “Connected and automated mobility”. All these were integrated into the Green Deal ambitions towards sustainable mobility (2019).

In nutshell, the EU is striving for more than a decade for greener transport, which remains a priority for current Commission and other institutions, but the reality is challenging.

II. Shortcomings

Many policies were implemented, but the real “green” impact on numbers has not been met, since the GHG emissions have increased.[13] The Green Deal twins together digital and transport transition but there are past inefficiencies.

The transport market is fragmented: MS have a big say in their national laws until the EU legislates. The diverging national priorities and different points of view on the Pigouvian principle and sustainable mobility make it more difficult. [14]Also, the divergence in between member states and their transport networks is obvious since there are the “new MS” and the “founding” ones. To illustrate, in the train services, the lowest ranked are new MS - Croatia or Romania. [15] Naturally, some countries will try to lobby for their “preferred” sector, such as for Poland road transport due to cost-competitivity or Germany for rail, thanks to its efficiency. Of course, there are initiatives for all sectors, but they are not yet fully implemented, such as Single European Area and its 4th Railway Package.[16]

Moreover, some directives experienced a change, but it is questionable whether it was effective. As an example, Directive 1999/62EC was much criticized and now faces a revision based more on the Pigouvian principle.[17] But regarding road transport, thanks to the Dieselgate scandal, the EC tightened the rules and gained fining power on CO2. Nevertheless, there is a lack of coherence in between MS regarding transport, so the proper legislation is yet to be implemented. Furthermore, investment in transport was the lowest in history in 2016 – 2,7% of EU GDP, and the absorption capacity of investments and funds creates disparities in between MS alike with the CEF. [18][19] The greening TEN-T policy particularly requires much more investment and coordination to respond to climate goals. The EC shall address better the reality and divergences with a light self-assessment.

III. Challenges for the recovery period

Europe is ambitious, but needs to overcome the consistency and finally find an agreement on integrated approach towards green mobility so that the Green Deal and other policies become true.

With the post pandemic situation, the EU has a chance to make this sector digitalized and effective. The investments should be put into a modal shift to zero emissions and electrified transport with accompanying public transition towards greener systems (smart city and mobility transitions).[20]

Another challenge is monitoring. In my opinion, the EU should concentrate more on digitalisation as it is in its ongoing process of the TRIMIS database to better monitor and assess the transport performance and technologies used for greening. The EU should go on in deepening its Mobility Package to support sustainable vehicles transport and the development of the strategies for FUEL.[21] Those strategies are situated under MFF and Horizon Europe, so it is on the Council to give a green light to the future.

Likewise, a challenge ahead is enshrining transport into Climate law and Emissions trading system initiatives, because without this it is impossible to meet the 90% emission reduction needed to achieve the Green Deal[22]. Moreover, the revision of other directives such as Combined Transport and Fuels directives are yet to be implemented and integrated into TEN-T within the overarching Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility[23]. Hopefully, this strategy will also include reinvention of urban sustainable mobility since COVID is finally an opportunity.

To sum up, the transport policy aspires to be ‘greened’ by every initiative, but the lack of global agreement and coherence in the aspirations is causing distortions and inefficiencies, so now it is the best time to act.

[1] Delbeke, Jos, and Peter Vis, eds. “Towards a Climate-neutral Europe: Curbing the Trend.” Routledge, 2019. [2] Von der Leyen, Ursula. „State of the Union address 2020“. European Commission. 2020. [3] Already part of the Treaty of Rome, Article 4(2)(g) and Title VI of the TFEU [4] Eurostat, Intra EU trade in goods- main features. Statistics explained. April 2020. link: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/pdfscache/26044.pdf [5] Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE). „Transport in the EU: current trends and issues „Brussels: Directorate-General Mobility and Transport (2019) [6] European Parliamentary Research Service & Markéta Pape. „Briefing, Transport Policy “. February 2020 [7] Directorate- General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE). “Update of the handbook on external costs of transport." Version 2019. [8] EUR-Lex, „Document 32013R1315 - Regulation (EU) No 1315/2013“https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32013R13 [9] European Commission. White paper-European transport policy for 2010: time to decide. Office for official publications of the European Communities, 2001. [10] European Rail Traffic Management System [11] European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament „Keep Europe moving - Sustainable mobility for our continent - Mid-term review of the European Commission’s 2001 Transport White Paper“ {SEC (2006) 768 } /* COM/2006/0314 final */ [12] European Commission, Press release „Freight transport in Europe: new Commission initiatives aimed at achieving greater efficiency and sustainability “. 18 October 2007, accessed on: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_07_1550 [13] European Parliamentary Research Service & Markéta Pape, „Briefing, Transport Policy “, February 2020 [14] Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE). „Transport in the EU: current trends and issues „Brussels: Directorate-General Mobility and Transport (2019) [15]European Commission. “Efficiency of Train Services.” Mobility and Transport - European Commission, 27 Feb. 2019, ec.europa.eu/transport/facts-fundings/scoreboard/compare/investments-infrastructure/quality-rail-infrastructure_en. [16] Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE). „Transport in the EU: current trends and issues „Brussels: Directorate-General Mobility and Transport (2019) [17] European Parliament Think Tank & Ariane Debyser. Briefing „Revision of the Euro vignette Directive“. 2020 accessed on: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2017/614625/EPRS_BRI(2017)614625_EN.pdf [18] Connecting Europe Facility [19] Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE). „Transport in the EU: current trends and issues „Brussels: Directorate-General Mobility and Transport (2019) [20] Agora Energiewende, Buck Matthias, Graf Andreas, Graichen Patrick, “European Energy Transition 2030: The Big Picture. Ten Priorities for the next European Commission to meet the EU's 2030 targets and accelerate towards 2050” (2019) [21] Tsakalidis, Anastasios, Konstantinos Gkoumas, and Ferenc Pekár. "Digital Transformation Supporting Transport Decarbonisation: Technological Developments in EU-Funded Research and Innovation." Sustainability 12.9 (2020): 3762. [22] Tsakalidis, Anastasios, et al. "Catalysing Sustainable Transport Innovation through Policy Support and Monitoring: The Case of TRIMIS and the European Green Deal." Sustainability 12.8 (2020): 3171. [23] Directorate-General for Transport and Mobility, „ Communication from the Commission on the EU strategy for a Sustainable and Smart Mobility “.