Mid-term review of the White Paper on European Transport Policy – time to smile?


(the Parliament Magazine June 2006)

The European Commission has chosen 22 June to launch the Communication on its long-expected mid-term review of the White Paper on European Transport Policy. Although Europe already has experienced hot summer weather, I hope this communication bodes spring-time for EU transports!

A thorough re-appraisal of our policies is necessary if we are to prosper in today’s competitive world. The EU needs an ambitious, innovative and feasible European Transport Policy, which strikes the right balance between economic, safety and environmental priorities. We must acknowledge that our intentions have been noble, but the means unrealistic and potentially even harmful. How come?

The White Paper of 2001 contained many laudable objectives, several of which have been realized. However, a critical flaw was aiming to freeze the share of road transports to a certain share through "modal shift". There are two reasons for this.

1) It is not possible! Of the €1,100bn ($1,300bn) spent annually by individuals and businesses on land transport in the 15 "old" EU member states, some €1,050bn go on road transport and less than €50bn on rail and waterways. As to distances, railways transport some 11bn km annually, compared with the 700bn km travelled by lorries and vans. These approximate figures give the proportions. In my view they clearly show that roads are in a completely different "league". The idea of replacing road transports with rail transports is thus not possible. Only by giving up our welfare and by moving both people and factories next to railroads can modal shift happen to some extent.

2) It is not necessary! Even if some marginal amounts could be transferred from the roads to other modes, there is no real justification for this. Certainly, just as other transport modes, road transports also have negative impacts in addition to its positive ones. But we need to target those negative effects directly instead of trying to get rid of the mode itself. Thus let's promote cleaner vehicles and work for enhanced road safety.

A modern EU Transport Policy, based on constructive principles, such as “complementarity between transport modes” and “decoupling between transport growth and its environmental impact” can drive the EU economy and society closer to the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy. We can achieve competitiveness, growth and jobs, whilst at the same time meeting our environmental and safety objectives. Indeed, this debate has already been going for some time in the press.

I have been glad to notice that the soon-to-be Finnish EU Presidency intends to place logistics and the user of logistics services in the centre of its policy priorities.

It is the merit of the future Finnish Presidency of the EU and it alone to have proposed to the Union a new modern and constructive framework, instead of clustering the discussion into the old oppositions and antagonisms typical for the “old” White Paper.

Speaking about logistics, it is only natural to reassess the role of road infrastructure and transport, which is not just a mode among other modes. We must recognize that roads are, to our great benefit, the main logistics provider and the link between other modes, thus making efficient supply chain logistics happening. We should also give credit to the huge "time-winning" capacity of air traffic. Its role is growing by the minute as we produce goods of ever greater value. And just like Chris Rea sings "every second counts".

Certainly, all transport modes have a role to play, and we need to create a fair and transparent framework for their optimal use. This guarantees competitiveness, environmental sustainability and a happy smile on the European taxpayer's face.

Ari Vatanen

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