Rail package

Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, may I begin by warmly congratulating the rapporteurs on their sterling work and on their close cooperation with all the other members of the Committee on Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism.
In my contribution to this debate, I should like to focus on the work that Mr Jarzembowski has done and to enumerate the conditions in which liberalisation can truly succeed. As far as freight transport is concerned, there are no differences between us; we agree on the need for liberalisation or opening of the market in freight transport, because, over the past few years, and indeed decades, the percentage of freight transported by rail has steadily fallen. This is not the result of liberalisation, which came along much later. On the contrary, liberalisation is actually a necessary, albeit inadequate, response to this development.
The domain of road haulage has experienced the very liberalisation that we actually want to see in the realm of rail transport. National borders now present virtually no obstacle to international road transport within the European Union, nor do divergent technical or safety standards. The external cost of road transport, however, is not borne by carriers, which has been to their advantage, and the road network has received massive amounts of public investment. The primacy of road over rail cannot be regarded as the triumph of free enterprise over nationalised industries, because road transport could not have flourished without public investment.
As far as passenger transport is concerned, I am very grateful to the Commissioner for her explanatory remarks, and I hope that the pragmatism and logic of her arguments have also convinced Mr Jarzembowski, who is not entirely immune to the sort of cogent argument of which the Commissioner availed herself so amply today. Let us be honest: the crucial point is not whether the rules take effect in 2005 or not; what is crucial is that they are introduced at some time in the next few years. We are in agreement on that point. My group will vote for the Jarzembowski report, but I should like to say very clearly on its behalf that attempts to liberalise freight transport will only succeed if they are accompanied by greater flexibility on passenger transport. Freight transport must take precedence for the reasons I have given, subject to certain conditions. The successful liberalisation of rail transport will also depend on measures such as the harmonisation of technical specifications and safety standards. Much has been said about this already, and we fully agree with what we have heard. The obstacles to a single European market that still exist in this domain must be systematically removed. This is a challenge to politicians throughout Europe and more particularly to both sides of the rail industry.
Which brings me to the second condition. It has become fashionable today to implement reforms that run counter to the interests of the people who are most directly affected by them, namely the workforce. I believe it would be better if we could secure the support of employees, particularly railway employees, for reforms and changes. The agreement reached a few days ago on train drivers´ licences is a very good sign. If we assign responsibility to the two sides of the rail industry – employers and employees – subject, of course, to the proviso that failure to exercise this responsibility will result in an imposed political decision, I firmly believe that they will arrive at an effective solution, as has happened in the case of the train drivers´ licence. I hope that this is indeed the start of a constructive partnership between management and labour in the rail industry.
Thirdly, liberalisation will only work if more funds are invested in the infrastructure. Reference has already been made to the electricity market, to the situation in the United Kingdom, for example. If we liberalise but do not strive to ensure that there are sufficient incentives for investment, there is a real danger that networks will collapse and that the seeds of insecurity will be sown. After all, the aims of competition are to push prices down, which also reduces profit margins for infrastructure operators, and to achieve better or fuller use of the infrastructure. If no compensatory or supporting public investments are made, serious problems can arise.
I am somewhat saddened by the fact that, following a very good submission or submissions to the Council by the Commission, no clear statement has emerged on investments in the trans-European networks, particularly on additional incentives, in other words the 30% that the Commission is seeking for cross-border projects. We must encourage all the Member States to step up their investment in the rail network, with special emphasis – needless to say – on cross-border measures. How do we want to bring Europe together if there is insufficient investment in the rail infrastructure? I hope that a statement on this point will be forthcoming at the December summit, if not before. And let me reiterate my gratitude to the Commission, which has done so much good groundwork.
My last prerequisite for the success of liberalisation is the creation of a level playing field. As I have already mentioned, one of the many reasons why road transport has established its supremacy is that road users do not pay the external costs, in other words the environmental costs. They pay neither for the additional wear and tear caused by heavy vehicles nor for the environmental damage caused by vehicle emissions.
The Commissioner has presented a Directive on infrastructure pricing that I do not find entirely satisfactory, because I feel it offers too little scope for the rectification of this imbalance. I do find it alarming, however, to read about what has been happening in the Council, to learn how little approval and support there is for the position adopted by the Commission. I hope that this House will support the Commission more strongly on this issue, and I should like to express my thanks once again to the rapporteurs for their efforts in this direction. Mr Jarzembowski has produced an excellent piece of work. All he has to do now is to make that leap of faith and focus on freight transport; above all, he should fully endorse the position of his esteemed colleague, Commissioner De Palacio, and then we shall arrive at a good decision.