Aviation and rail are the two sectors that the Danish Presidency of the EU – which started on July 1 – is planning to focus on in the transport sector. Danish minister for transport Flemming Hansen told the European Parliament’s committee on regional policy, transport and tourism today that he would be pushing for "greater efficiency of individual modes of transport, on a liberalised basis", during the six months that Denmark is in the chair of the Council of Ministers. He indicated that he would energetically pursue the "single sky" agenda. He said he thought there was "good chance of getting it through" – the agreement was now "mature enough, even on blocks, to go ahead". And he spoke of the "clear need to develop rail transport"

A common European airspace is needed for reasons of efficiency and safety, the minister stressed, with "proper cooperation between civil and military air traffic". And while he was "well aware of the misgivings felt in some member states, particularly among air traffic controllers, regarding the proposed reform of European air traffic control", he insisted that " that should not stand in the way of the planned reform". He placed his faith in ensuring that "that the facts of the matter should be explained to those affected, so as to alleviate their understandable unease in the face of the changes".

He will aim to pilot the EU through to "a decision on the entire package for the establishment of a single European sky: actual airspace organisation, requirements for air traffic control service providers and interoperability between air traffic control systems". He is also hopeful of finding a compromise on the currently blocked proposal to amend the rules on compensation for passengers denied boarding as a result of overbooking and in the event of delays, despite the current view among EU ministers that the compensation sums proposed "are on the high side of what is reasonable". Passenger rights must be "clearly formulated" – although "in a balanced way, making allowance for airlines’ ability to operate a sound business", he said.

On airport slots too, the European Commission’s recently modified proposal represents a "modest move" towards allocation according to clear, transparent rules, which might allow agreement before the end of the year. And the aviation security measures, currently locked in a last-ditch bid to find agreement between Council and Parliament, could be resolved if all sides showed flexibility, he urged.

The January proposal for railway reform is, the Danish minister made clear, another priority, with its objectives of further opening up of the international rail freight market, access to cabotage services, harmonisation of rail safety rules, promotion of interoperability and establishment of a European rail safety agency. He said road congestion could only be relieved by harmonisation of rules on rail safety and interoperability, and by opening up the European rail freight market, and the Presidency is "firmly resolved to deal with the Commission proposals as a single package, so as to achieve progress in all areas".

On road transport, he said he hoped to make headway on rules on driving time and rest breaks for commercial drivers. He was reserved in his comments on the current proposal for change: the proposal had been "submitted with the aim of simplifying the rules", but, he said, "it is important both that the rules fulfil their purpose and also that they can be administered by member states’ enforcement authorities". And on the discussion of Austrian eco-points for heavy goods transit traffic over the Alps, he said he was aware of the sensitivity, but he had "told the countries directly affected by the issue that, unless they bilaterally reach agreement on a solution, it will prove very difficult to make any headway" – and he offered to help broker an agreement.

Overall, the minister acknowledged the importance of the transport industry – which, he noted, accounts for nearly 10% of EU member states’ total gross domestic product and employs over 10 million people. "There remains some way to go before an internal market is fully established for all forms of transport", he admitted. But although his focus was on "an efficient, sustainable, integrated European transport system", he balanced concern for "Europe’s international competitiveness" with the need for "attention to the transport industry’s environmental impact" – so as "to secure an effective European transport infrastructure, with the emphasis on safety and the environment". He said he was keen to find a compromise on the proposed Marco Polo programme, designed to give EU aid to environmentally friendly forms of transport, especially rail transport and short sea shipping – but the funding – the current area of disagreement – must "avoid distorting competition".

The current EU attempt at liberalisation of port services "is basically a good proposal, which can help rationalise the port sector and assist in promoting shipping and facilitating trans-shipment between shipping and land-based modes of transport", he said. He said he would aim to reconcile the remaining areas of conflict, notably on whether it should cover pilotage services. He would be seeking compromises too on the discussion of changing the priorities in the TransEuropean Networks programme, and awaited with interest the impending Commission proposals on infrastructure charging and integrating environment further into transport. His colleague Bendt Bendtsen, responsible for shipping, will be presenting the maritime elements of the Danish programme to the committee on July 10.



A member state may limit access to internal routes of Community air carriers during the transitional period for liberalisation of the sector, even if it issues an invitation to tender in order to ensure service to distant or thinly-served national destinations, the European Court of Justice ruled today. In a case pitting Flightline against the Portuguese government and the Portuguese airline, TAP, the Court said Portugal was entitled limit cabotage until 1 April 1997 for Madeira and 1 July 1998 for the Azores.

The case goes back to 1995, when Portugal rejected an offer by Flightline, a British airline, to operate the routes, in favour of TAP. Flightline challenged the Portuguese decision, arguing that 1994 state aid to TAP granted by Portugal and authorised by the Commission required as its counterpart the elimination of barriers protecting TAP from competition, including removal of any limitation on cabotage rights.

But the Court has ruled otherwise. The aim of the 1992 regulation is progressively to introduce cabotage rights in order to stimulate the development of the EU air transport industry. For that reason, the regulation allows member states, by means of a transitional period, to adapt to that liberalisation. And the conditions imposed in 1994 by the European Commission in its state aid decision do not prevent Portugal from exercising the options laid down for the transitional period either, it decided.

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