2012 marked the 20 year anniversary of the European Single Market. Over these past two decades, European Union transport policy has been a central pillar of efforts to bolster the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital between the 27 EU Member States.
The transport sector should in many ways see itself as the enabler of the Single Market – the catalyst to the further deepening of trade and economic ties between EU members. Unsurprisingly therefore, transport is a hotly debated area in Brussels covering numerous policy initiatives across the different modes.
Mixed results for market liberalisation
The transport market liberalisation agenda remains high priority, although historically progress has been unequal across modes. Liberalisation of the aviation market in Europe in the 90s ushered in a period of unprecedented growth in air transport and introduced many new entrants and business models into the market. The low fares model has clearly been the major driver in this process. However, Europe’s airspace continues to be fragmented and the patience of EU regulators appears to be wearing thin with Member State reluctance to pool their airspace sovereignty within the Single European Sky process.
The road, port and rail sectors lag further behind. The recent Fourth Railway Package proposed by Brussels in early 2013 is yet another effort by the EU to break open the disconnected and oft protected national railway market. At the same time, the EU will be looking to extend cabotage rules in the road sector in the coming months, despite potential opposition from certain Member States wary of the impact on their own, fragmented, road haulage market vis-à-vis potential European competitors.
An ambitious frontrunner on environmental issues
In terms of environmental protection in the field of transport, Brussels has moved forward with (sometimes overly) ambitious policy goals. The automotive sector continues to be heavily regulated in terms of non-CO2 and CO2 emissions control, with increasingly stringent technological requirements set by Brussels periodically. Whether this stimulates innovation or restricts competitiveness of European producers remains the key open question.
Meanwhile, the EU’s efforts to bring international aviation within its cap and trade emissions trading scheme have been met with international outcry and threats of retaliation by its global trading partners. The move is currently on ice and has certainly provided food for thought for Brussels as it considers taking the same approach to the international shipping sector.
Passenger rights as a flagship
Most EU commentators would point to the passenger rights agenda as the bloc’s biggest success in the transport field – the topic that normally appears first in the table of contents for any European Commission-produced brochure on transport policy. The success of passenger rights legislation is perhaps debatable with significant cost concerns from industry and soon-to-be-addressed problems of implementation throughout the EU. However, it is likely that the rights afforded to EU citizens when, say, flying internationally, far outstrip those of travellers anywhere else in the world.
The changing global landscape
The EU’s detractors would argue that the focus on regulation over liberalisation has placed a net burden on Europe’s transport sector. European legacy airlines and automotive manufacturers continue to struggle faced with global competition, whilst the centre of gravity for the global logistics market seems to continuously shift eastwards.
At the same, the challenge of the EU’s transport agenda must always take note of the principle of subsidiarity. That is to say, the EU is wary of looking to regulate in the more localised aspects of transport policy which remain at the behest of individual EU Member States. Areas such as road safety, urban mobility and infrastructure development (outside of the power of the EU purse strings) have seen, and will continue to see, less influence wielded by the EU executive compared to the national capital.
With European Parliament elections approaching and a new European Commission due to be appointed in 2014, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the European transport policy agenda. Clearly the completion of the single transport market remains an enormous undertaking and the voice of industry will be critical as the new political regime gathers momentum over the next 18 months.
Many of the future priorities will undoubtedly be wrapped up in the EU’s position more globally, as it faces up to rapidly changing trade and transport flows and questions about the bloc’s own economic competitiveness. It is indicative that the world’s three fastest growing trade routes essentially bypass Europe altogether (Asia-Africa, intra-Asia, and Asia-South America).
So whilst there will be continued emphasis in Brussels on getting Europe’s own house in order, this will ultimately be a hollow effort without a firm eye on the external dimension of EU transport policy, and the continued engagement of industry and other stakeholders in the process.
May 22, 2013
We all kick the bucket. It’s a given together with taxes, as the famous saying goes. Before we do, however, there’s that notorious list of life goals that need to be checked off. With the Barroso Commission departing in October 2014 and the European Parliament elections looming in May 2014, Europe will have to start prioritising its own bucket list: the 2013 Commission Work Programme.
It’s a legacy year and there’s clearly a lot on the EU’s plate, ranging from shadow banking to shale gas, and although the Commission and Parliament would like to see every dossier wrapped up before departing next year, choices will have to be made. Certain dossiers will be hastened whilst others may be delayed; both will leave many dissatisfied. Other items on the political agenda will be more fortunate. One dossier, which headlines the bucket list and is certain to be ticked off in 2013 as part of ‘the legacy’, is air quality.
As you know from my previous posts (here and here), Europe dedicated 2013 the ‘Year of Air’ for a reason: 17 of the 27 EU Member States currently fail to meet air pollution standards. According to the European Environment Agency, exceeding legal limits reduces life expectancy of those living in the most polluted cities by approximately two (!) years (on average in Europe, 8.6 months). The on-going, comprehensive review of air policy (the Air Quality Framework Directive and its five daughter directives) looks to address human and environmental health and safety by way of stronger air quality laws addressing emissions at the source, and the Commission has received clear support from stakeholders to do so.
On 4 March, the public consultation on the air policy review closed and results, which are still to be officially published here, were presented at the 5th Stakeholder Expert Group on 3 April. According to speakers, including Thomas Verheye, Head of Unit for Industrial Emissions, Air Quality & Noise at DG Environment, consultation responses were “quite green” and showed that a clear majority of respondents, including the public, experts and national authorities, support:
- Tighter emission controls to ensure compliance with air quality standards;
- 2020 targets under the national emission ceilings directive beyond the Gothenburg Protocol;
- Binding air quality standards for fine particulates (PM2.5) for 2020;
- Closer alignment to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance.
Of note, respondents also emphasised the need to address short-lived climate forcers, such as ozone.
As you remember, the public consultation, together with the REVIHAAP and HRAPIE reports, will feed into the review – this makes the above input very relevant and very important in shaping the Commission’s upcoming air quality proposal. The proposal is very likely, especially following the widespread support voiced in the consultation, to set much stricter standards for both anthropogenic and natural sources of air pollution. With the Commission, as highlighted by Environment Commissioner Potočnik, being absolutely “committed” to the cause, and given other recent setbacks, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be looking to strike off air quality from that bucket list with vengeance.
Expect further updates as we move closer to the publication date: September 2013.
April 19, 2013
As you might have gathered from the title, I was inspired by recent US elections. Obama’s re-election marks the third president in a row to have won a second term; the last not to? George H. W. Bush in 1992 when Bill Clinton’s campaign famously highlighted, “It’s the economy, stupid.” By not grasping the importance the economy played in the minds of the electorate, Bush Sr. ended up losing big time. In Europe, the same might be the case for many if they don’t pay attention in 2013: Europe’s ‘Year of Air’.
Announced in 2011 by Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, 2013 will be the ‘Year of Air’. No, this isn’t a slight remark about the 2013 Commission Work Programme despite its “Eurolite” agenda (for more on this, click here); the EU will undertake a comprehensive review of air policy in 2013. The idea is that following an assessment of implementation and achievements of the Air Quality Framework Directive and its five daughters, including the 2008 Air Quality Directive, the EU will push for stronger air quality laws which address emissions at the source.
Air? But that’s Europe’s ‘Success Story’!
But why, you ask? Simple. Air pollution is bad for our health and the environment, and a significant proportion of Europeans still live in areas (especially cities) where exceedances of air quality standards occur (just look at the map below). Though emissions of the main air pollutants in Europe have declined between 2001 and 2010 [emissions of all particulate matter decreased by 14% in the EU, and ozone precursor gases (nitrogen oxides (NOX), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) and carbon monoxide (CO)) decreased by an average of 28%], many European countries still do not comply with EU emissions agreements and especially not those set by the significantly more stringent World Health Organisation. The consequences of this disproportionate exposure which are driving the review? Health problems, resulting in a reduction of EU life expectancy by more than eight months, and environmental issues, including acidification, eutrophication and climate forcing.
Where’s the problem?
Interestingly, the sources of air pollution which the EU’s review will have to address are not all anthropogenic, or manmade. According to a recent report by the European Environment Agency, when finger-pointing at the bogeyman we should not only wave our index finger at the usual suspects but at Mother Nature as well. The main sources of air pollutants, in addition to agricultural and industrial activity, power generation and transport (including diesel vehicles), are mineral salts from sea spray, naturally suspended particulates (sand, pollen, ash, etc.) and soil dust. Sea spray mineral salts even amounts to 70% (!) or more of particulate matter (PM10), one of the most problematic pollutants in terms of human health.
What to expect?
As you can gather, the review will be both comprehensive and resolute; dedicating 2013 to air only raises political and citizen awareness about the need to revamp air policy, adding to the pressure of delivering in the final full year for both the Commission and Parliament. Any legislative proposal, however, will have to go through co-decision, and thus the Institutional urge for a legacy will face an uphill struggle against Member States already failing to implement current rules. What can be said already is that no matter where you’d like the cards to fall, the air quality review should be taken seriously. If you don’t, Bloomberg Businessweek next November might headline, “It was air quality, stupid.”
- A new public consultation will be made available online before the end of 2012.
- The proposal will be drafted early next year, with a new legislative proposal to be published late 2013.
For more on the EU’s Air policy review, click here.
November 13, 2012
Fleishman-Hillard Brussels was particularly enthusiastic to welcome Li Hong, President of Fleishman-Hillard China, as he visited the capital of Europe last week. While almost 8000 kilometres separate Brussels from Beijing, the upcoming leadership transition in China is poised to have a dramatic impact on the economy here in Europe, as in the rest of the world. His visit was thus the perfect occasion to discuss, with a handful of EU public affairs professionals from a broad range of industry sectors, the challenges the country is facing and the outlook for various industry sectors moving forward.
Trade policy is an exclusive power of the EU which means that it is the EU, and not individual member states, that legislates on trade matters and concludes international trade agreements, covering services, intellectual property and foreign direct investment. With the globalisation of the supply chain, China has become a major, if not the most important, production hub for multinational companies operating in Europe. Any shift in labour or environmental legislation taking place in China has an impact on foreign companies producing in China. Similarly, China is looking at the EU as a landmark for matters like the classification of chemicals substances or product safety legislation.
The fruitful discussions further confirmed the global dimension of EU public affairs. As influence operates from multiple pressure points and sources across different time zones, a silo approach to public affairs is no longer viable. Companies navigate in a globalised system with global challenges (trade, environment, food security, energy scarcity): what happens in China impacts the EU and vice versa.
In view of the current global economic slowdown, all eyes are expectantly turned on market prospects in China where a burgeoning economy and growing middle class still offer untapped opportunities for foreign players, from the pharmaceutical and retail sectors to logistics, automotives and chemicals.
On November 8th at the 18th Party Congress, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will see new faces in many of the top leadership posts. Given the importance of the Party’s leadership to the functioning of the world’s second-biggest economy, these major generational changes will strongly impact the margin of maneuver of foreign companies operating in China. It will also have a critical influence on the future of EU-China political and trade relations and therefore on public affairs in Brussels, Beijing and beyond.
Stay tuned for a comprehensive analysis of what the upcoming Chinese leadership change can bring to the industry, European consumers and EU policy makers.
October 23, 2012
Much to the chagrin of those who believe better regulation is less regulation, if there’s one thing that Brussels does well it’s churn out rules. The global economy may tank, the wheels may fall off the banking system but those who lunch on legislation are generally well fed in this town. None more so than the Committee where I spent some time as a young lad, the European Parliament’s prodigious Environment Committee (ENVI). According to that august body, ENVI accounted for around 20% of all co-decision files in both the 1999-2004 and the 2004-2009 legislatures, making it the largest legislative committee in Parliament in terms of legislative through put.
So a few weeks ago I was slightly worried when upon preparing for a Britcham event, I took a glance at the latest ITER listing for the Environment Committee. (For those of you who are not familiar, the ITER listing is a handy document that prevents you having to bother poor EP secretariat people with calls for information on what’s happening when in Committee quite so often.) At the time the legislative cupboard seemed pretty bare; own initiative reports (endocrine disruptors anyone?) on road maps, action plans and fitness checks but little in terms of legislation. I remarked upon this to an MEP from the Environment Committee in attendance at the event. He replied that this was one of the reasons he was spending time in his other committee, where there was a legislative debate that he could really sink his teeth into.
Fear not. With the end of this Parliament fast approaching – we’re about to enter its last full calendar year – and thoughts turning from arcane EU policy to the politics of getting re-elected, recent times have seen a replenishment of supplies. Yesterday saw the much talked about changes to the Fuel Quality Directive and Renewable Energy Directive to account for the alleged ill-effects of certain biofuels. While the latter was an ITRE competence the former was ENVI last time around. So expect a bun fight over competence this time. Other dossiers have in recent weeks begun to catch the attention. The Commission’s ETS backloading proposal with its desire to have both the legislative change and the comitology process done by the start of the third phase (1 January 2013) have already provoked debate inside the two legislative bodies. Of course the CO2 in cars dossier that’s just kicking off has its fair share of challenges both within the automotive sector as well as without. Not to mention the issue of f-gases, which is due from the Commission in the course of November, and already attracting media comment on leaked drafts and industry cries.
No doubt the rush to get proposals out to allow for agreement before the elections is playing its usual role in Commission thinking. Sadly it makes for a heady cocktail of increasing politicization and lack of time to think. (It’s worth noting peaks of co-decision files in the last year of each of the last two Parliaments in this document on this point.) My only question: is the result the equivalent of a legislative hangover? It felt like fun at the time, but later one feels the ill-effects. What we can be sure of is that debates shall be between those who advocate that such rules will spur ‘eco-innovation’ and ‘green growth’, while others shall complain that they’re only just getting used to the current rules and that all this regulatory uncertainty at a time of economic crisis is only likely to push those with Yuan/Yen/Rubles/Dollars to invest them elsewhere.
All this to say we won’t be going hungry for a while yet. However, this may well be the last sitting where there’s still good food on table. Previous sittings have fattened us up somewhat and one may expect that the Commission annual work programme, due 23rd October, and those that follow it to see environmental policy going on a diet. But that perhaps is the subject for another post.
October 18, 2012
The word “sustainability” can cover a multitude of interpretations, but when it comes to fisheries policy there is no ambiguity: today’s overfishing means tomorrow’s collapsing fish stocks. Until recently the Common Fisheries Policy has been a classic case of unsustainability, a stand-off between short term political pressures on the one hand and scientific evidence warning of the destruction of Europe’s fishery resources on the other. But at least change is in the air. Rio +20 may prove a real catalyst for reform.
NGOs have condemned the outcome of the Rio meeting for its lack of specific commitments, but I would subscribe to the view of businessGreen that the conference conclusions could have a far-reaching impact on the way that governments and business approach the whole sustainability question. On fisheries the commitments are substantial.
Of course words must now be translated into action, but there are signs of change in Europe. The EU fisheries council earlier this month set a course for a more sustainable fisheries policy. When the European Parliament discusses fisheries reform in September 2012, using the limited extra powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs can be expected to maintain pressure on the Council for an enlightened policy to take effect from 2013. Rio will be an important incentive for change.
The June 12 Fisheries Council commitments are still pretty vague. They called for maximum sustainable yields for different stocks to be set “by 2015 where possible” and “by 2020 at the latest”. Multiannual plans for fisheries management would be used to manage specific stocks – bearing in mind that Lisbon introduced shared national-EU competence for such management. And the banning of discards, whereby fish caught beyond the quota limits are thrown back dead into the sea, would (eventually) be introduced.
According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a pioneer campaigner who has gathered nearly a million signatures against discards, about half of the fish caught in the North Sea is currently dumped at sea because it fails to meet by-catch rules or exceeds quota. His campaign has been remarkably effective in reinforcing the Commission’s ambitions for change in fisheries policy.
The language used in the Rio declaration (paragraphs 158-177) combines environmental and economic measures to protect oceans and seas. On fisheries it commits the parties “to urgently develop and implement science-based management plans, including by reducing or suspending fishing catch and effort commensurate with the status of the stock” and to “further commit to enhance action to manage by-catch, discards, and other adverse ecosystem impacts from fisheries including by eliminating destructive fishing practices”.
Fisheries policy will now take on a different aspect as accession negotiations with Iceland move into their most difficult phase. Ten of 18 chapters have now been negotiated, fisheries still remain. The prospect of a reformed CFP will be key for Iceland, which will surely settle for nothing less than a firm commitment to change. “A fishing nation like Iceland is something that the European Union hasn’t encountered before,” says Iceland foreign minister Ossur Skarphethinsson – a claim which the Norway might dispute. Indeed, fisheries and energy were the two issues which led the Norwegians to reject entry in the early ‘70s.
There are other issues where Iceland will no doubt want assurances. For example, a situation where quotas allocated to one EU country can be bought up by operators from elsewhere, as where Spanish vessels have registered in British ports and so qualified for British quota allocations, is of course consistent with freedom of establishment, but does little to respect an initial purpose of quotas, ensuring fishing opportunity to locally based fishermen. A greater emphasis on regional management may be the way ahead here.
June 24, 2012
Not so long ago, I had the privilege to visit our team in South Africa, where our world-class team has been in overdrive helping a range of clients prepare for the upcoming COP17 global climate talks in Durban later this year.
It is clear the government there – and many of its biggest companies – are determined to put on a big show. Anyone suffering hearing damage from the sound of vuvuzelas at World Cup 2010 would surely agree that the country does “big show” very well. But now, football has been replaced by climate change as the subject on everyone’s lips.
That strikes me as a contrast to the way the subject is being viewed in Europe. The continent has historically led the world in the development of climate change policy and practice, but lately, I get the feeling that other concerns – economic recovery, job creation and so forth – have caused politicians and business leaders to focus elsewhere.
While in many ways this is perfectly understandable, it fundamentally misses the point. I say that for two reasons. Firstly and most obviously, the problem hasn’t gone away. Climate change is still happening, we’re still making more of an impact on the world than we should, and many complex issues have yet to be solved before we are able to live sustainably within the world we created.
Secondly, there is a mistaken notion that tackling climate change costs money and jobs. In reality, it often makes good business sense to tackle climate change. High energy prices mean that measures taken to make operations more efficient can give companies a competitive advantage. The opportunity to do our part to save the planet motivates employees, inspires innovation, and creates new jobs in cutting-edge industries. The notion that reducing our impact on the environment has to mean increased costs or job cuts is outdated.
That said, I also think that it is important to put a value on our environmental impact if we are going to seriously address the problem. It has often been said by companies that “we will not buy our way out of environmental responsibility;” but the real issue is about changing behaviour. Behavioural change is always difficult, and cost is a much more powerful motivator than goodwill.
I’m not sure whether COP17 will produce a watershed of political support for environmental and social sustainability. Early signs are promising – China, for instance, is sending 2000 delegates to Durban, South Africa intends to unveil a comprehensive carbon tax, and the EU remains ideologically committed to furthering the discussion. But international agreements are complicated, the world is deep in recession, and – and as COP15 in Copenhagen showed us – intent and result are often very different things. Time will tell.
In the meantime, however, each of us can focus on where we can personally have an impact. If we each can assess and show improvement in a small way, and actively think about and manage our energy use, it can make a huge difference. It is also important for each of us – either as companies or as individuals, to communicate: to talk about what we’re doing; how successful we have been, what we have learned along the way and – of course – how much money we have saved. Doing this will make it much more real than talking about it in the abstract.
There is no one-size-fits-all model for reducing environmental impact. But if each of us does a little, we can have a big influence. The future of the planet is too important to be a passing fashion.
November 14, 2011
After such a positive response to our last podcast we continue our series on how digital tools are shaping and influencing journalism. This week we are joined by Dave Keating from ENDS Europe, a leading environmental policy news source which covers European environmental climate and energy developments in detail.
He chats to Anita about the increasingly integral role of digital in journalism, resistance form editors on social media initiatives, and his time as Mayor of the Commission!
Dave’s blog Gulf Stream Blues is widely read throughout Brussels, a brilliant commentary on Europe from an American perspective . You can follow Dave on twitter @davekeating.
Click here to listen to this edition of the podcast.
Click here to subscribe to the FH Europe podcast on iTunes.
(If using Internet Explorer, you may have to right-click on the link and save target as then play that file by double clicking it)
May 13, 2011
Ronny Patz’s blog response to our podcast with the FT’s Stanley Pignal generated some on-line debate about why there aren’t many active bloggers on EU Affairs. Opinions on the scarcity are magnificently articulated here but I wonder if they are the same reasons that there are no blogs honing in on EU policies which have a huge impact on “Joe Public”. Take EU environmental policy for example. It has pretty much reached every one of the 500 million EU citizens. A more obscure element of it helped a maverick candidate to top the poll in Ireland’s general election this Spring. So you can’t say it isn’t relevant. There’s definitely space for an informative, entertaining, sometimes critical – sometimes supportive blog on how the Europe is being changed by environmental policy from Brussels. Any takers?
In the meantime, our next podcast on “Journalists & Digital” will be here very soon….
May 10, 2011
Against the backdrop of a European economic crisis of monumental proportions, the creation of the UK’s coalition government must seem like “noises off” to other European theatre-goers. But at least the deal reached between Conservative leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats could provide political stability in Britain for several years and remove a potentially destabilising element in the councils of Europe.
Having said that, I don’t recall a time when Britain seemed so much apart from European affairs, so preoccupied with its own problems, terrified that the troubles of the eurozone will scupper recovery and growth in the British economy, yet unable to do anything much to help.
David Cameron’s decision to visit Paris and Berlin within ten days of becoming prime minister was a significant gesture. There are certainly bridges to build, especially following the break with the EPP in the European Parliament. Last week’s meeting between David Cameron and President Sarkozy was only the second time since June 2008 that the two had met, and any substantive discussion was put off until the French president’s state visit to London on June 18.
In Berlin Chancellor Angela Merkel provided a guard of honour and addressed her guest as Du rather than Sie. Cameron reminded her of British opposition to any new treaties, but avoided criticism of the German ban on naked short selling. It was a friendly meeting, but had none of the signs of the Anglo-German rapprochement which could be possible.
It does seem that Cameron is not yet at ease dealing with other European leaders. Indeed, reports that deputy prime minister (multi-lingual) Nick Clegg has been asked by the prime minister to strengthen the government’s personal relations with top EU politicians does make sense.
The inauguration of Britain’s Con-LibDem coalition will certainly have come as a matter of great relief to both Sarkozy and Merkel. The “programme for government” launched on May 20 confirms that any further “transfer of power” to the EU would be resisted and that a referendum would be held to ratify any new treaty, but stresses the government’s wish to be a “positive participant” in EU affairs “with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century: global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty”.
Joining the euro in the life of the current parliament is, of course, specifically excluded.
The European Commission will find a definite ally on climate change, where the British coalition programme presses the EU to “demonstrate leadership” and supports a 30 per cent CO2 reduction target by 2020.
In some policy chapters the EU is notably absent. No mention of trade, for instance, nothing on EU security and defence policy, and not a single mention of the EU under the foreign policy heading, despite unilateral commitments on the Balkans, Iran, India and China. The coalition has clearly decided to treat these issues as routine business and not to stress their EU context.
The coalition programme emphasises that cutting the budget deficit is the absolute priority of this government. Britain’s role in the world will be reassessed, which will in turn raise questions in relation to defence spending (closer co-operation with France, cancellation of orders like the A400M?), foreign policy (cut diplomatic spending and rely on a stronger EU overseas service?) and the contribution to the EU budget, which will soon become a big political issue.
I do wonder how Baroness Ashdown feels about the whole thing as she wrestles with conflicting national demands in relation to the European External Action Service. After all, a slimmed down British diplomatic network might well demand an enhanced European capability.
May 26, 2010