European Commission Presidential candidate for the ALDE party, Guy Verhofstadt, has shared his vision for mobility in The EU.
FIA: In your opinion, what is today’s most pressing mobility issue in Europe?
Guy Verhofstadt (GV): There are numerous mobility issues in the years to come. We have to ensure the free movement of people and goods in the best of conditions for all road users. Congestion and emissions are the most pressing issues.
Congestion in the EU is often located in and around urban areas and costs nearly 100 billion euros, or 1% of the EU’s GDP, annually. After a few difficult years due to the economic crisis, the amount of goods that needs to be transported will definitely boom again and we need to be prepared. To be ready for that moment, we have to make sure our infrastructure and our transport policy is adapted to that. According to the Commission 2011 White paper, freight transport activity is projected to increase, with respect to 2005, by around 40% in 2030 and by little over 80% by 2050. And this creates lots of challenges. Within cities, where most of the people live and congestion is an even bigger issue, action is needed.
The other challenge is to reduce energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and pollutant emissions for the transport sector. Certainly in cities, air pollution is a real problem. From within the EU institutions, we need to promote innovation in a technology neutral way.
FIA: Today, the Transport Commissioner is also Vice-President of the Commission; will you give transport the same importance in the next Commission?
GV: Transportation is one of the pillars of the European Single market. The transport sector is more than 11 million jobs in 2011. Transport is the backbone of our economy. Transport infrastructure connects our cities, ports, airports, multimodal platforms, etc. So, transport has to be an absolute priority and should stay a priority also in the next mandate. The Commissioner is a member of our party, so we support him all the way. He put the emphasis on opening of the market for all transport modes. This work needs to be continued.
FIA: How do you think transport and mobility can contribute to the economic recovery of Europe?
GV: The transport sector was given a big opportunity for investments in big infrastructure projects with the Connecting Europe facility and the TEN-t. Even though the focus of those two major projects is more on sustainable modes of transport and not really on roads.
The EIB will support transport infrastructure. There is a pilot phase for project bonds running. With these projects bonds, the EU, trough the EIB, covers part of risk of the investments, which should attract private investors such as pension funds and insurance companies, who would otherwise not be interested in investing in infrastructure projects.
The road sector will be able to use those project bonds quite often as road projects often are “more profitable” than other projects. Building infrastructure can give a boost for our economy as it creates employment. Transport is the link between the EU regions. Again, transport is the backbone of our economy.
For road transport the main issue is innovation and research in cleaner fuel, less greenhouse emissions, (biofuels – with sustainable criteria, electricity, hydrogen…). Investment in new fuel technologies but also in infrastructures, one doesn’t go without the other. Finally, innovation is absolutely key.
FIA: What are the main transport challenges the next Commission will have to address?
GV: The main challenges are to reduce emissions, cut congestion, make infrastructure and cars safer and reduce the number of fatalities.
The further opening of the markets for all transport modes is also a priority. The internal market for transport is not finalised yet. There is still no maritime space without borders and no single market in the railway sector. For the road: there are amongst others the restrictions on cabotage for freight transport and the European electronic toll system is still far away from being a reality.
FIA: What will you do as President of the Commission to ensure that connectivity is deployed in a manner that is beneficial to consumers?
GV: The 112 eCall can and will save lives. Within the EU road safety action plan, the focus lays on prevention. However, promoting a system that will make the intervention of the 112 services faster is also a priority. As a result of the automatic call, emergency services will reach the place of the accident faster; this will reduce the response time by 40/50%. This could mean a time win of 10 minutes. As most fatalities occur during the first minutes after an accident, this gain in time is crucial.
There is an agreement on the infrastructure, meaning that Member States are now obliged to have their infrastructure ready to receive 112 eCalls. Member States have to be ready at least six months before the date of application of the Regulation concerning the type-approval requirements for the deployment of the eCall in-vehicle system and amending Directive 2007/48/EC, and in any case no later than 1st October 2017.
The Type approval part (meaning the requirements the manufacturers have to fulfill to equip cars with 112 eCall) still needs to be discussed with Council.
Having an eCall system in your car raises to some people the issue of data protection. Will the system track me constantly? Will my car be followed and will the data be collected somewhere? The eCall system is a dormant system. It will only remember the 3 latest positions of the car, this is necessary to indicate to the emergency services the location of the crash and the direction the car was going. We of course need to have strict data protection rules to protect citizens but we also have to recognise the added value of the 112 eCall system and the advantages it can bring to the EU citizens.
Having an eCall system in the car leads to the obligation to have an in-vehicle platform to operate IT software and applications. This needs to be an open platform that service providers can, if agreed by the car owner, use to provide different services. This creates lots of opportunities. The open platform is something that needs to be strictly regulated so that no abuses can occur and consumers can largely profit from this.
Next to the 112 eCall system, there are other ITS systems that can connect cars and reduce congestion. Digital road signs, real time traffic information, electronic fee collection, etc..
By stimulating debate and discuss all issues properly with all stakeholders, we should make sure that we create legislation which is innovative and has added value to EU consumers.
FIA: How will you champion the cause of more sustainable vehicles and encourage consumer uptake of more sustainable vehicles?
GV: The main issue is the infrastructure; it is a chicken and egg question. The penetration of vehicles and vessels running on alternative fuels is too low due to the lack of a sufficient fuel supply infrastructure, and vice-versa. With the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure a first step is made. But a follow up is needed and the developments in the market need to be monitored closely. Industry also has to be given guaranties on the politics to come. Innovation needs to supported, but also the uptake of those new technologies needs to be stimulated.
FIA: What are the next challenges in terms of road safety? What could be done in your view to diminish the fatalities among young road users?
GV: In general: EU action plan road safety, which the ALDE group fully supported. Almost 6 000 young people under 25 died in 2012, the main fatalities are between 18 and 24. We support the Vision 0, zero fatalities and defended a common definition of serious injuries.
ALDE has supported a pilot project for training and awareness, for children and young people.
Investment has to be made in infrastructure also. Well preserved road infrastructure contributes to reducing fatalities and injuries of road users and also passively safe road infrastructure (such as lamp posts which are designed to buckle) is also very important.
We have also supported the recommendation of speed-limits of 30km/h in residential areas and the implementation of new technologies such as alcolocks.
FIA: Do you support a stronger legislative response to mileage fraud?
GV: The ALDE group has tabled amendments to protect vehicles from mileage fraud in the Roadworthiness report. Thanks to the support of the Group a compromise was found with Council to protect odometers.
Manipulating odometers increases the risk of accidents and damages the used car market. Vehicle’s mileage is already being recorded by dealers, repairers or testing centres, but a central database gathering this information would have a great impact on reducing the cost of mileage fraud on consumers. Exchange of information on odometer readings through IT solutions is crucial to reduce mileage fraud in cross-border second-hand cars sales.
A recital now states that odometer fraud should be regarded as an offense liable to a penalty, because manipulation of an odometer may lead to an incorrect evaluation of the roadworthiness of a vehicle. The recording of mileage in the roadworthiness certificate and access for inspectors to that information should facilitate the detection of odometer tampering or manipulation. The exchange of information on odometer readings between the competent authorities of Member States should be examined by the Commission.
Since 2006 Belgium has a system to prevent mileage fraud that can be an example for the whole EU. The system is called Car-Pass. When someone wants to sell a car, a used-vehicle inspection has to be carried out. Then you receive a car pass. It is obliged to hand over the Car-Pass to the buyer when selling a vehicle. This should absolutely be seen as a best practice that should be developed throughout the EU.
FIA: Will you support the earmarking of taxes for the upkeep and improvement of European roads? When do you think this can be placed on the European agenda?
GV: A big step forward was made in the charging of heavy goods vehicles for the use of infrastructure (Eurovignette) Directive; the principal of earmarking was, under the pressure of the EP, adopted by Member States. (15% of the external cost charge revenues and 15 % of the infrastructure charge revenues for the Trans-European Network). So earmarking is not complete, efforts will have to be made.
Earmarking the revenue generated from external cost charges is crucial to prevent these charges from becoming a new tax on heavy goods road transport. Ideally, the external costs of road transport should diminish over time and it is only fair that the revenue is used to achieve that.
Even though the scope of the agreement is narrower than what the European Parliament set out to achieve, it is an important step and will open the door to the internalisation of external costs in transport. The internalisation of external cost is not complete yet as pollution and accidents are not covered.
Another revision of the Eurovignette Directive due in a few years, we need to have an overview of the implementation first, the directive is not yet enforced in all Member States.
FIA: Are there any other thoughts or issues that you have to add on the subject of mobility?
GV: As said earlier, congestion is one of the major issues that could be solved by intelligent transport systems. Progress on emission will have to be closely monitored. Also safety and security of all road users have to be improved. One of the challenges for the upcoming years will be urban mobility, how to conciliate the economy of the urban area and the expectations of the citizens in term of health, noise, accessibility (quality of life). Connectivity between urban areas and EU regions will have to be improved.
FIA: Thank you very much for your time.