Speech by Violeta Bulc, EU Commissioner for Transport
Committee on Transport and Tourism, European Parliament
Mister Chair, Honourable members, Ladies and gentlemen
This is a real pleasure to be here with you this morning. As you probably remember, during my hearing before this committee only six weeks ago, I committed to work very closely with the European Parliament and to make myself and my team available to engage in regular reporting and sharing of information on the activities under my responsibility. I hope we will continue building trust and collaborate fruitfully during our entire mandate. My doors are always open for constructive proposals that serve common goals.
This is why I was very pleased to respond to the invitation of your chair, Mister Cramer, to come today in TRAN and exchange with you on the investment plan adopted by the Commission last week, in particular its consequences for the transport sector.
Let me insist on this unprecedented plan of 315 billion euros aimed at boosting jobs and growth. It is built on three pillars:
(1) The creation of a new European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI),
(2) The establishment of a credible project pipeline coupled with an assistance programme and,
(3) An ambitious roadmap to improve the regulatory investment environment.
I would like to focus on these three elements in order to underline their particular significance for the transport sector. And I hope I will be able to pass my enthusiasm on to you, as well.
The investment needs in transport are huge: according to studies conducted on the 9 European corridors, more than 75 billion euros of investment is needed every year, just on the Corridors which are part of the TEN-T network.
Firstly, investments needs are particularly high for the cleaner modes of transport — rail and inland waterways — where missing links and bottlenecks must be solved, notably at the borders, in order to have a unified and more efficient transport system.
The necessary infrastructure for cleaner power for transport — such as the installation of fast electric charging points along the motorways or in city centers, the deployment of LNG infrastructure in ports — must be rolled out at European level to break the chicken-and-egg vicious circle.
Secondly, investment needs in urban mobility are massive since they are generating most of the traffic and most of the emissions. The infrastructure and the fleets for new collective transport systems, to make our cities smarter, need to be put in place.
Thirdly, important investments are needed to adapt the European transport system to the 21st Century. Intelligent Transport Systems should be deployed at European level to make the best use of the existing and future infrastructure, and to develop a transport system which is at the service of the users — citizens and companies.
The new European Fund for Strategic Investment set up in partnership with the European Investment Bank, is therefore of particular importance for transport. It will offer new opportunities to finance the needs I just referred to.
It will complement — not substitute — the instruments already in place, such as the Connecting Europe Facility, the Cohesion Funds or the EIB loans, where the transport sector is already one of the main beneficiaries.
With a risk-bearing capacity of 21 billion euros, this new instrument will target more risky projects than the ones financed up to now by EIB. It will also contribute to the financing of certain types of investment that could not get access to EU grants - or only have limited access compared with their needs - for instance equipping vehicles with clean and intelligent transport systems, ERTMS, SESAR, fast electric charging points, to mention a few. It will concentrate on the most mature projects that can start within the next 3 years.
The Connecting Europe Facility, which many of you contributed to build, will use the new Investment Fund to deploy its innovative financial instruments. These financial instruments under the new fund will be able to cover wider risks and to generate better leverage, attracting even more investment capacity - with a ratio prudently estimated at 1:15.
Let me be clear: the 10% of the CEF budget contributing to the EU guarantee does not imply any change to the priorities of the TEN-T and of Connecting European Facility you defined. With a strong budget in the CEF, enough grants are available for projects that could not be financed without them, in particular the major cross-border projects and bottlenecks on the TEN-T corridors.
On the contrary, our TEN-T priority projects will now be eligible to both grants from the CEF and to financial instruments from the new Fund. And this will allow Member States to exclude these projects from the calculation of the national debts and deficit, since the guarantees given to secure private investment will be provided by the EU.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our new investment plan is not only about mobilising additional finance, it is also about identifying the right projects and providing them with the technical assistance they need to be brought to maturity rapidly. This will be one of the main challenges we will face. We need to identify those projects that correspond to our three key criteria:
1) Projects with clear EU added value, meaning projects that support our EU objectives in terms of smart and clean mobility;
2) Projects which are economically viable and with high socio-economic returns;
3) Projects that are mature enough and can start, at the latest, within the next three years, as I already mentioned.
I am very confident that the transport sector can provide a solid pipeline of projects with socio-economic and financial benefits. We are not starting from scratch. We are speeding up the process and clearing the pipeline.
The number of projects in the field of transport for the next 3 years is estimated to be above 100 billion euros of investments by the Commission (ports, dedicated rail lines, canal upgrades, motorways, ITS and clean fuel technologies). Member States have already provided to the joint Commission-EIB task force established in September lists of projects selected according to our three criteria, out of which a large portion is dedicated to transport infrastructure.
At the initiative of the Italian Presidency, the Christophersen report, which will be presented to the Transport Council tomorrow, has also identified transport projects along TEN-T corridors particularly suited for the new European Strategic Investment Fund. Let me already inform you about a few examples of the type of projects pre-identified by Mr Christophersen, together with European Coordinators Carlo Secchi and Kurt Bodewig:
- Some corridors and missing infrastructure links, such as Rail Baltic between Warsaw and Tallinn, the road and rail access to the Port of Barcelona or the upgrade of the Kiel Canal.
- "Business enablers" such as the development of the Ports of Dublin and Valletta;
- urban transport projects, such as the Brussels urban mobility plan, the new metro line in suburban Paris or electro-mobility infrastructure in the Czech Republic.
Mister Chair, Honourable members, Ladies and gentlemen,
The investment plan represents a real opportunity. But we should be conscious that both public and private investments will only materialise if we are capable of designing the right regulatory environment.
To attract investors we need to cut red tape, to repeal obsolete regulations and to make sure that new ones are as simple and as clear as possible. This is why I am particularly committed to the REFIT initiative and why I want our new initiatives to be based on thorough economic, social and environmental impact assessments.
You may have noted that President Juncker referred specifically to three pending transport initiatives during his presentation of the investment plan last Wednesday: the 4th railway package, the Single European Sky and the Blue Belt initiatives. These are of primary importance to make the transport sector attractive for investors. And these are mentioned explicitly as priorities in my mission letter.
I am fully aware that you have addressed these files in Parliament. And both the 4th railway package and SES2+ are on the agenda of the Transport Council tomorrow. But I need your help to push the Council to act and to open negotiations with you so that we can complete the legislative process by next summer.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Setting the right regulatory environment is a responsibility of the European institutions but also of Member States. This includes putting in place an adequate infrastructure charging policy. We need to put in practice the user-pays and polluter-pays principles. We need to make sure that infrastructure revenues are re-invested in the infrastructure.
In this context, I know that some members of your committee would like me to state whether I support or oppose the German Maut initiative. Let me clarify this immediately. On this specific issue and contrary to the charging schemes for heavy vehicles under the Euro-vignette directive, Member States' draft laws are not notified to the Commission. Therefore the Commission will only have the right to take a formal position on the compatibility of the Maut for passenger cars with the EU Treaties once it is adopted by the German parliament.
At this stage, I can only reiterate few basic points: while the Commission fully supports the implementation of the user-pays principle, it will remain particularly vigilant to the fact that this needs to be done in a manner that is entirely respectful of the EU Treaty principles, including the non-discrimination principle. There cannot be any compromise on this and I am confident that German authorities fully understand this. Of course I instructed the Commission services to remain in close contact and work with the German authorities to provide all the cooperation they may need.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I said before, I am committed to working together with you in the spirit of mutual understanding. And I take note of your vote earlier this morning on the classification of serious infringements in road transport which has been proposed by my predecessor Mr Kallas.
I have been told that this text has been subject to intense negotiations with Member States for almost two years and that the Commission has done everything within the available powers and legal framework at our disposal for the time being.
Of course, I am ready to give a fresh look at this file and consider how we can address your concerns. But you know that the main challenge for social legislation is not per se the lack of legislation but rather the implementation and enforcement of these rules. As you will remember, I committed already during my hearing to address this problem and avoid different interpretations of the regulations. It is therefore remarkable for me to see you reject a proposal that is about a better enforcement and categorisation of the relevant offences. Granted, it might be only a partial solution, but at least it is one which goes in the right direction and therefore you might have supported it.
Mister Chair, Honourable members, Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to be in a position to concentrate soon on the new initiatives I referred to during my hearing before your committee. I want to contribute in a decisive manner to the priorities set out by President Juncker's Political Guidelines. I am firmly convinced that transport is a growth enabler. It has an important potential in terms of job creation. It is essential to connect our regions, and can contribute to moving to an energy-efficient and low carbon economy.
In all of my initiatives, such as Smart Cities, the main objective will be to contribute to travellers needs and to set the conditions for the European transport economy to flourish. And, as you may have already understood, I strongly believe in the role of both technical and non-technical innovation, such as innovative business models and innovative services, in this respect.
The Commission will finalise its work programme for 2015 by mid-December and I would be pleased to have the opportunity to report back to your coordinators on this already during the December plenary.
This evening I will participate, together with Mr Cramer, in an exchange of views between the College of Commissioners and the Parliament committee chairs on this programme. I would be please if today's exchange can also be used to help us shape our programme for 2015 but also more generally for the five years to come.
For one month now, I've been meeting many transport stakeholders in order to put in place solid and fruitful working relations with them. I intend to continue to do so during my entire mandate to make sure that we all work together, better and faster in the interest of the European people.
I also intend to make very regular visits in Member States to see what the concrete impacts of our decisions here in Brussels are out there in the field, and how the projects we finance develop. And I will dare to invite you to join me in these visits as often as possible!
I hope you hear my sincere invitation for cooperation and I am looking forward to co-create a dynamic and pro-active European transport system together with you.
Thank you so much for your attention.