Recast of rail legislation adopted in Strasbourg
By Isabelle Smets | Tuesday 03 July 2012
A new chapter is opening for Europe's rail sector with MEPs' adoption, on 3 July in Strasbourg, of the recast of European railway legislation, the result of a compromise hammered out with the Council, on 13 June, after two years of tough negotiations (see
Europolitics 4447). The text, which still has to be formally adopted in Council, spells out the role of and relations between states, transport companies, infrastructure managers and regulators (whose powers will be increased by this reform) to guarantee the existence of effective competition on national networks.
All those concerned are already looking towards the future - which is very near since the European Commission will present, by 31 December 2012, a new rail package that will complete the liberalisation that began at the start of the 2000s. The date is written into the compromise adopted on 3 July and Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas confirmed that he would respect it.
The liberalisation of national passenger transport and the separation of infrastructure management and transport activities ('unbundling') will be at the heart of the new reforms. These are extremely sensitive issues that stir reactions in associations representing the sector (see separate article). They were already adopting positions in Strasbourg. Rapporteur Debora Serracchiani (S&D, Italy) repeated that she backed a total separation between infrastructure managers and transport companies. The rapporteur tried to include this requirement in her report at first reading, but was forced to back down in the face of the reluctance of her fellow MEPs to address these questions now. During the plenary debate, Said El Khadraoui (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the S&D group, explained that, with the liberalisation of passenger transport, this was "one of the very important issues" being postponed until the end of the year and assured that his group would see to it that these reforms are not implemented at the expense of workers' rights and protection. Gilles Pargneaux (France), a member of the same group, called for a halt to "considering liberalisation of the rail sector as the only strategic horizon for the development of a single rail area". On unbundling, Philippe De Backer (ALDE, Belgium) noted that the fourth rail package "must create separate accounting," while Isabelle Durant (Greens-EFA, Belgium) said she sees "no need to rush into this one size fits all model today". This is just an inkling of upcoming debates.
The Commission knows it is walking on eggs and it is hard for now to say how far its proposals will go. Will they succeed in banning the holding company model cherished by Germany?