To get to a sustainable low carbon economy by 2050, Europe needs to cut emissions from transport by at least 60% compared to 1990: that’s a cut of 70% compared to today’s emissions. This presents a very serious challenge, in particular for freight, where increasing truck traffic, modal shift from rail to road and stagnating lorry fuel economy have dominated the last two decades.
A new European Commission will take office in late 2014, shortly after a new batch of MEPs take their seats in the European Parliament. This will herald a new five-year policy cycle, which is an opportunity to bring forward new transport policy ideas.
The new rules on EU transport spending were wrapped up in late 2013 with the new EU budget. But a number of transport policy issues have fallen into the ‘unfinished business’ pile, as the work of the 2009-2014 Commission and Parliament was dominated by the financial, economic and Euro crises.
A proposal to further improve the rules on road pricing did not materialize, despite a commitment to implement road charging for lorries including the costs of infrastructure damage, pollution and congestion across Europe by 2016 and for the whole transport sector by 2020. This should be high on the agenda for the next Commission and Parliament, and in particular should give new guidance to national governments on charging car drivers for road use, congestion and pollution.
National Ministers have been discussing a proposal on fuel taxation for several years, but have failed to agree on a way forward to tax fuels on the basis of energy and carbon content. Today’s tax rules don’t reflect the climate or air pollution impacts of burning different fuels – particularly diesel, and allow some countries to act as fuel tax havens.
The rail sector will benefit from the new EU spending rules, but both freight and passenger rail shares continue to decline in Europe as a whole. Some countries are the exceptions show promising growth. However, there is a serious problem with cross-border passenger rail in particular, where connections are being closed and services cancelled, despite passenger demand. The focus on expensive high-speed rail infrastructure and services, including beneficial treatment from EU funds, may be feeding this harmful trend.