Opening Statement to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications on the EU Transport Council

17th June, 2015

Chairperson and Committee Members, I am pleased to appear before you in relation to the outcome of the Transport Council in Luxembourg on 11th June. I will go through the main agenda items and then mention the items covered at the Council meeting under Any Other Business.


I will then welcome any questions from Members.




The Council was dominated by discussions on Air Passenger Rights and on the Fourth Railway Package.


We have discussed the Air Passenger Rights at this Committee previously.


The proposal aims to promote the interest of air passengers by ensuring that air carriers effectively comply with a high level of air passenger protection during travel disruptions. At the same time, the proposal intends to take into account the financial implications for the air transport sector.

At the Council, the Presidency introduced a progress report and referred to the significant progress that had been made on clarification of extraordinary circumstances and cabin baggage entitlements. However, agreement was not possible concerning connecting flights and threshold for compensation.


The thresholds for the payment of financial compensation to passengers for delayed or cancelled flights and how connecting flights will be dealt with are the two sticking points holding up the revision of the EU regulation on air passengers’ rights. Few Member States intervened in the debate but all the comments concerned these two points.


As members may appreciate, the overall challenge is to strike a balance between passenger protection and the interests of the industry.


Ireland considers that the proposals for compensation for missed connecting flights, as currently drafted, are anti-consumer.  The focus should be on ensuring adequate care and assistance is given to passengers affected and on encouraging airline behaviour that will ultimately assist the passenger in pursuing their original objective, i.e. getting to their final destination.


Our concern is that focussing on compensation could result in adverse airline behaviour that would not be in the consumer interest.  It is possible that airlines would either increase fares to compensate for the higher risk associated with such flights and/or significantly increase transfer times at hub airports, neither of which would in our view be in the passengers interest.


Ireland along with Italy, Czech Republic and United Kingdom spoke about the need for balance between industry and consumers.


I said that while Ireland is broadly supportive of the proposal,we continue to support the Commission’s original proposal for five, nine and twelve hours as trigger points for compensation thresholds in cases of cancellation or delayed flights.


I told the Council that Ireland does not agree that compensation should be payable after a three hour delay and feels that the shorter time would render it more likely that a carrier will cancel a flight.


As regards compensation for missed connecting flights, I advised that  Ireland is against any such compensation and feels that the focus in relation to missed connecting flights should be on ensuring adequate care and assistance is given to passengers affected and on encouraging airline behaviour that will ultimately assist the passenger in pursuing their original objective, i.e. getting to their final destination.


I also set out Ireland’s position on the question of the use of the term ‘flights’ as opposed to ‘journey’ in the new Regulation. Ireland supports a reference ‘flights’ in order to have a more balanced approach and  make the payment of compensation for cancellation or delay specific to an individual flight and not a series of flights.


Austria and Spain spoke about the need to protect consumers’ rights. Luxembourg intervened to say that it hoped to bring proposals to Coreper during their term of Presidency commencing next month.




The Fourth Railway Package consists of six proposals aimed at removing the remaining barriers to the completion of the Single European Railway Area. The six proposals fall into two groups – the Technical Pillar and the Market Pillar.

The Technical Pillar reinforces harmonisation of interoperability and safety arrangements and extends the role of the European Railway Agency.  The three proposals in the Technical Pillar have been politically agreed within the Council of Ministers.


The Presidency is engaging with the Parliament with a view to reaching a second reading agreement. Those technical measures of the Fourth Railway Package do not give rise to difficulties for Ireland.


The essential elements of the Commission’s proposals under the Market Pillar are:


  • the opening of the domestic passenger markets to competition by granting open access right to all EU railway undertakings;
  • to introduce mandatory tendering for public service contracts; and
  • to change the regulatory framework for the governance of railway infrastructure with a view to legal separation of the infrastructure management and service provision functions.


Whilst some Member States see these reforms as an opportunity for growth of their rail sectors and rail companies, others, such as Ireland, have fundamental concerns that these reforms would have very negative impacts on the provision of rail services in their countries.


We have aligned with seven other like-minded small Member States – Luxembourg, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Slovakia, Greece and Croatia. This Group maintains that Member States whose rail markets form less than 1% of the EU rail market should be allowed to continue direct award of public contract services. This is the most efficient way for Ireland, and other small Member States, to provide rail services.


At Council, the Presidency introduced a progress report on the Political Pillar of the Fourth Railway Package.


The Commission noted that the key outstanding issue on the Public Service Obligation aspect was around exemptions from compulsory direct award of Public Service Obligation contracts. The Commission disagreed with an exemption based on market size i.e. 1% of passenger kilometres but voiced support for a proposal from the Netherlands of a performance based exemption which would allow all Member States to continue direct award based on the contract being performance based.


The group of eight small Member States, including Ireland, who support the 1% proposal spoke in support, with the exception of Luxembourg given their status as incoming Presidency.


I intervened in the discussions to record that Ireland, along with other smaller Member States, has fundamental concerns that these reforms would have very negative impacts on the provision of rail services in some countries.


I pointed out that the Irish rail sector is small, isolated, with low traffic densities, and is operated under a single public service contract. Given these characteristics, Ireland continues to strongly support the so called ‘1% provision’ which would allow small rail markets to continue direct award of public contract services.


This is the most efficient way for us to provide our rail services and there is no evidence of the scale of benefits that may result from competitive tendering of PSO contracts in small markets. I asked that these specific challenges for small markets be accounted for in any final compromise.


Luxembourg noted they will put in all efforts possible to reach agreement by October and I expect that a solution will be found which will not pose risks to the rail sectors of Member States with small rail markets.


On governance, the key issue is for Member States with separated structures not wanting additional burdens for their rail companies. Member States see the governance problem as being restricted to those Member States with integrated companies.


The Commission stated that ensuring equal footing of vertically separated and fully integrated structures was the challenge.


I intervened to say that our viewpoint is that with continued direct award of PSO services, functional separation of the Railway Undertaking and Infrastructure Manager, accompanied by strong regulatory oversight, is sufficient to ensure fair play and transparency within the Irish market.




This agenda item dealt with a ‘Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down technical requirements for inland waterway vessels and repealing Directive 2006/87/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council’.


The Council adopted a General Approach on the proposal, which is a recasting of a Directive currently in force.  The proposal was discussed in detail at the Council’s Shipping Working Party between January and May this year.


The aim of this proposal is to replace a previous Directive with one that allows the annexes with technical parts to be referenced separately – so that they can be more easily amended – in order to aid progress towards a single, uniform set of technical standards between the EU and the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine.


The proposal will have no implications for Ireland, since Ireland is one of the eleven Member States not addressed by the proposed Directive.  Therefore, Ireland will not be required to transpose or implement the Directive.


Ireland has deliberately chosen to stay outside the scope of this proposed Directive, since there is no inter-connected commercial inland waterway transport in Ireland, and Irish inland waterways are not navigable for the purposes or scale of the commercial traffic envisaged in the proposed Directive.


Even though Ireland is not included within the scope of this proposed Directive, Ireland operates high safety standards on our inland waterways.




There was information given on a number of items under Any Other Business including;


  • the main conclusions of the interim evaluation of the EU road safety policy framework 2011-2020;
  • the transport infrastructure financing, including an update on the first call for proposals under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF);
  • the outcome of the Asia Europe (ASEM) Transport Meeting on 29-30th April in Riga;
  • the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking; and
  • the in-coming Presidency’s work programme in the field of transport.


I will leave it at that. Thank you again for the invitation to discuss the Transport Council with you today and I welcome any questions that Members may have.