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European Road Transport in 2020 - An Outlook

Transport policy is a special field in many respects. In contrast to other policy fields, transport policy is characterised in particular by its cross-sectional and its multi-level character. The cross-sectional character describes the interdisciplinary nature of the field. Transport policy is difficult to understand as an exclusive, self-contained field. It is a field which is significantly influenced by various other policy fields. Environmental policy, social policy, technology policy, economic policy, competition policy and many other fields are important components of transport policy. The field also has a multi-level character. Transport policy is no longer a field hierarchically determined by the nation state. Many different state, civil society and economic actors at all levels (local, national, regional) have their role and say in transport policy processes.

This special role of the transport sector has become increasingly important over the last decade. For example, there has been a massive increase in awareness of the role of transport in the climate and environmental sector. New technologies and advances in the field of electric mobility and autonomous driving are expressions of this new awareness in the transport sector. But the last decade has also revealed the massive problems and challenges that still need to be solved. The second half of the last decade in particular has shown that we are only just beginning to solve environmental problems or introduce new drives and technologies. But what challenges await us now in the new decade? What still lies on the desks of the EU institutions? Here we want to give a brief transport policy outlook into the beginning of the new decade.

Environment, climate and energy

One of the new Commission's main packages of measures was presented at the end of last year. The European Green Deal is designed to make Europe the world's first climate-neutral continent by 2050, something the new Commission also describes as the greatest challenge and opportunity of our time. The measures, which are accompanied by an initial roadmap of key policy measures, range from an ambitious reduction in emissions to investment in cutting-edge research and innovation and the preservation of Europe's natural environment. Supported by investment in green technologies, sustainable solutions and new businesses, the Green Deal can be a new EU growth strategy. The involvement and commitment of the public and all stakeholders is crucial to the success of the Green Deal. The Commission stresses that the package makes the transition fair and social.

With regard to transport, the Commission plans to revise the CO2 standards for cars and vans to ensure "a clear path towards emission-free mobility from 2025". The new CO2 standards, which the EU institutions have just won a tough battle for in April 2019, are to be put back on the table this year. But it remains to be seen whether the CO2 reduction targets will be the focus of attention or whether technical aspects will be taken into account. It can be expected that this will be a tough battle between various governmental and non-governmental actors. The Commission also plans to publish a climate law within the first 100 days.

It should also be noted that EU legislation always includes built-in review clauses obliging the Commission to carry out a stocktaking exercise at regular intervals. In 2023, for example, passenger car legislation will be reviewed, and its effectiveness assessed. The Commission could decide at that time to amend the targets for 2025 and 2030.

At the heart of transport policy debates are and will remain the drive technologies of the past and the future. Even though the Commission officially takes a technology-neutral approach, most of the measures to promote low-emission and zero-emission vehicles undoubtedly focus on electric mobility. Measures such as the Commission's investments in the European Battery Alliance are also designed to make Europe competitive again in the future. It is clear that of all future drive technologies, electromobility is the only one that is already market-ready. Nevertheless, other technologies must not be allowed to fall behind.

At the end of last year, for example, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), Hydrogen Europe and the International Road Transport Union (IRU) issued a joint call for the accelerated development of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure throughout the EU. Against the background of the general goal of decarbonising transport, the three associations emphasise that fuel cell electric vehicles can make a positive contribution. Fuel cell vehicles emit no emissions at the tailpipe and with sustainable hydrogen production it is also possible to significantly reduce CO2 emissions. Similarly, hydrogen technology acts as a bridge between the energy and transport sectors (sectoral integration) and offers solutions for better integration of surplus renewable energies such as wind and sun ("power to hydrogen"). The growing demand for renewable and low-carbon hydrogen in many industries will increase supply and reduce costs. The associations also emphasise that promoting the hydrogen industry would strengthen Europe's competitiveness in the long term and that this would also mean growth and jobs.

Digitisation, connectivity and vehicle data

Another core topic of the next decade will be the digitalisation and networking of transport. Not only does the development of suitable technology and infrastructure urgently require the attention of the European institutions, but also and in particular the creation of a legal framework for handling vehicle data for the protection and welfare of the consumer. The current handling of vehicle data for the benefit of car manufacturers inevitably harms consumer welfare. This imbalance needs to be remedied by means of appropriate, uniform rules for handling vehicle data. A move by the Commission is long overdue. In general, a legal framework should ensure and promote transparency in the processing of vehicle data, the effective guarantee of freedom of choice and the right to data transferability, access to vehicle data on the basis of the FRAND principle (Fair Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory), and the maintenance of safety and the promotion of innovation. For example, in May 2019, a large majority of the members of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament recently called for the drafting of a bill to regulate access to vehicle data, among other things. The report explicitly emphasises that access to the data must be fair, timely and unlimited. Originally, the Commission was supposed to present the draft law by the end of the year, but this did not happen. Now that the new Commission has taken up its work, however, we can now finally expect to see a corresponding move soon.

Tolling systems

The debates on the euro vignette and the abolition of time-based vignette systems will also remain an issue in 2020 and beyond. The core of the proposal was a two-stage abolition of time-based vignettes. Instead, the Commission argued for a digitised distance-based toll based on the user pays principle. According to this principle, the distances travelled by road users on the relevant routes should be measured and then used as the basis for calculating the toll. Charging based on distance should better reflect the actual level of use, emissions and pollution. A distance-based toll should thus be introduced for trucks by 2023 and then for all 4 vehicles of "other categories", including passenger cars, by 2027. However, despite initial agreement, no common position has yet been adopted in the Council. In addition, even within the highest judicial body of the EU, the issue of car tolls is highly controversial and leads to diametrically opposed positions. The discrepancy between the opinion of the respected Advocate General Nils Wahl in early 2019 and the recent ruling of the Grand Chamber in case C-591/17 Austria/Germany shows the current regulatory mumbo jumbo.

Road and vehicle safety

Vehicle safety will also remain a recurring theme. However, fundamental new regulations were only agreed last year. For example, from mid-2022, all new cars entering the EU market must be equipped with modern safety systems. Following an agreement with the European Parliament in March 2018, the Council adopted a directive to significantly reduce the number of road accident victims. The new regulation requires the introduction of around 30 different technologies or systems in new vehicles of different types. Under the agreement, most technologies will become mandatory in May 2022 for new vehicle models and in May 2024 for existing models. The European Commission expects that the proposed measures will help save more than 25,000 lives and prevent at least 140,000 serious injuries by 2038.


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