Transport Council blog, Brussels

4th December, 2014

On Wednesday I attended a meeting in Brussels of the EU Council of Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Ministers to discuss the broad transport agenda the Union is dealing with. It was a busy agenda, covering issues as diverse as EU funding for vital transport infrastructure projects, proposed changes in the rail market and even the presence of drones in European airspace.


With Italy currently holding the EU Presidency, the meeting was chaired by Italian Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Maurizio Lupi.


On the crucial infrastructure debate, I pointed to the need to ensure that projects that did not fall within the TEN-T investment framework, which aims to improve the interconnectivity within the EU, but which are still vital to the growth agenda for the Union, were given adequate priority. This is of particular importance to Ireland, which is geographically isolated when compared to most Central European countries and might therefore be at a disadvantage when it comes to funding.


The Council also discussed what is known as the “Fourth Railway Package” which consists of proposals aimed at removing the remaining barriers to the completion of the Single European Railway Area. It could mean, amongst other things;


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


While the spirit of the reform is good, I made the point that the Irish rail market is the subject to a single public service contract and some of the proposals would potentially have a very significant impact for the provision of railway services in Ireland if agreed in their current form.  We are not convinced that the result would yield benefits.


In my view, the reality of market differences has to be borne in mind. Domestic passenger markets across Europe differ as regards size and scale of the Member State rail networks, stage of development, the use of technologies, traffic densities and potential for growth.  As such the adoption of the same solution for all markets is not necessarily the best way forward.


Another very interesting topic discussed at the meeting, and one to keep an eye on for the future, was that of Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), known to you and I as drones.


Part of the discussion at the last Council meeting focused on how EU and national rules can best be adapted and combined to reap the full benefits of remotely piloted or fully automated aircraft in the global aviation network by 2050.


Ireland is a small player in a European context in this area, but unlike some other member states which have yet to adopt legislation on RPAS, we already have regulation in this area. The Commission will make proposals early next year.