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How to make transport policies healthier, wealthier and wiser

One of the frustrations of EU transport policy is the relentless focus on the internal market as the one-and-only justification for setting standards, introducing rules or spending money. It leaves us all short-changed. On the rare occasion that ‘Brussels’ tries to make suggestions for cities’ or regions’ transport policies to improve air quality, safety or health, the spectre of ‘subsidiarity’ spooks everyone and the idea vanishes.

People flying Ryanair should pay for their own tickets

Last week saw Europe extend its dirtiest subsidy, the one that makes ultra-cheap air tickets possible, by at least another decade. That’s the simplest way to sum up new rules for state aid to regional airports and airlines. The text itself is, as usual, almost impossible to read for lay people, so in this piece I will try to paint the rules and their consequences as simply as possible.

State subsidies for airports set to soar

State subsidies for regional airports and airlines serving them – mainly the low-cost airlines – will be allowed to continue for at least another 10 years, according to the Commission’s finalised guidelines on state aid for airports. The revised guidelines, which cannot now be challenged by MEPs, are ostensibly aimed at streamlining and tightening state aid for airports.

Rail reforms amended

MEPs this week voted to approve rail reforms that would harmonise technical specifications and create a single EU-wide authorisation procedure for rail stock. However, the European Parliament diluted the Commission’s proposal to more clearly separate companies that run rail infrastructure from those that provide freight and passenger services, reversing a previous position by its transport committee.

10 things that went well for sustainable transport in 2013

Yes, this editorial has an unlikely title. If you have been following us, or the issues we work on, a little bit, the overwhelming impression is that things have been scaled back (emissions-trading aviation), postponed (the Fuel Quality Directive, possibly NOx from ship engines, truck CO2 emissions) and watered down (CO2 from cars, biofuels).

Alpine transport protocol signed

The transport protocol of the Alpine Convention has entered into force in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein and Slovenia, having been ratified by the EU over the summer. The Alpine Convention is an international treaty signed by the eight Alpine countries and the EU, aimed at protecting the Alps. Its transport protocol was agreed in 2000, and has a clause that states: ‘The contracting parties shall refrain from constructing any new large-capacity roads for transalpine transport.’ However, Italy held out against ratification until it was persuaded to sign a year ago, and Switzerland has refused to sign the transport protocol, leaving its legal standing in some doubt.

Plus ça change – transport spending ready for its close-up?

While all eyes in Brussels are usually focused on three leading actors – the Commission, Parliament and Council – there are several other lesser-known EU institutions playing supporting roles. In the wings we have the EU Court of Auditors, which has repeatedly published scathing – and revealing – reviews on the use of EU funds for transport infrastructure. But will the stars of the EU show listen to their critics before the spotlight is turned on the new transport spending policies?

Proposal on reducing aid to aviation leaves distortions

The Commission has published proposals aimed at reducing the amount of taxpayers’ money that goes to airports and airlines. However, the fine print of what is initially a consultation means small airports will continue to receive massive subsidies that often make their way to low-fares airlines, even when such subsidies distort competition between airlines. The consultation is important, because when it is complete the Commission can implement its preferred solution without consulting MEPs.

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