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Brussels, 24 November 2010

Rail transport: Commission welcomes improvements to national legislation in Austria, France and Portugal; reduces scope of infringements

The European Commission has today welcomed the improvements made by Austria, France and Portugal to their national rail legislation, and therefore reduced the scope of the infringement cases against them. Nevertheless, other substantive issues remain unresolved in all three countries and so the Commission will continue to pursue the cases before the EU's Court. Austria, France and Portugal were among the thirteen Member States that the Commission, back in June 2010, referred to the EU's Court of Justice for not implementing correctly the directives of the "first railway package" on opening the EU's rail market to competition (see IP/10/807).

Significant improvements

In accordance with the "first railway package", France has now notified the Commission that it will introduce an independent rail regulator from 1 December 2010. In addition, France has relinquished state intervention in the determination of rail infrastructure charges, which will henceforth be set by the infrastructure manager.

The establishment of an independent rail regulator is a crucial step in opening the rail services market to competition. In particular, the regulator has to prevent discrimination of rail operators when accessing railway infrastructure. The transfer of the power to set infrastructure charges from the state to the infrastructure manager will strengthen management independence of the infrastructure manager and ensure it can act according to economic and business criteria.

Portugal and Austria have established a performance regime to minimise disturbances on the network. These performance regimes set incentives for infrastructure managers and railway operators to avoid disturbances and thereby optimise the use of the railway infrastructure.

Practical effect of incorrect implementation

Incorrect implementation of the first railway package directives results in obstacles to market access and a lack of transparency of access conditions. This prevents the establishment of a functioning single market and level playing field for rail services in Europe. Strong and independent railway regulators which have the power to take effective decisions on market access and charging issues are also essential for the establishment of fair and non-discriminatory market conditions.

Next steps

For all three countries – Austria, France and Portugal – other substantive issues remain unresolved, such as the issue of independence of the essential functions of an infrastructure manager for Austria and France, further issues on charging in the case of France, and, in the case of Portugal, management independence of the railway undertaking as well as insufficient provisions to ensure the balance of the infrastructure manager’s revenues and expenditures. The Commission therefore confirms its previous decision to bring the cases to the EU's Court of Justice, but with a reduced scope.

The infringement procedure continues in the cases of the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovenia and Spain (see IP/10/807).

For more information on EU infringement procedures, see MEMO/10/605

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