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European Parliament adopts equivocal first reading position on fourth railway package

The European Commission expressed its disappointment today about the European Parliament’s plenary vote on the six legislative proposals forming the fourth railway package. The package was presented by the Commission in January 2013 to deliver better quality and more choice in railway services in Europe, thereby contributing to the competitiveness of the rail sector. However, the amendments adopted by the European Parliament today will limit effective competition in the rail sector.

Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for mobility and transport, said: “This is not the strong signal that European rail needs and expects to increase its attractiveness. While the EP opens the way for reducing technical obstacles, today’s plenary vote is yet another demonstration of the tenacity of the vested national interests that proved more appealing to MEPs than the balanced and well-reasoned compromises reached in December by the Transport and Tourism Committee (TRAN).”

On the so-called “technical pillar” of the package (recasts of the safety and interoperability directives and a new regulation on the European Railway Agency), the European Parliament confirmed the need to remove existing administrative and technical barriers. MEPs have empowered the European Railway Agency (ERA) with new tasks, such as the issuing of safety certificates and vehicle authorisations valid throughout the EU. This will contribute to increasing economies of scale and to decreasing administrative costs and procedures for railway undertakings.

However, on the so-called “market pillar” of the package (directives on governance and market opening, and regulation on public service obligations), MEPs disregarded the Commission’s proposals and the work of the Transport and Tourism committee (TRAN) by adopting an unambitious stance that could put at risk the development of a Single European Rail Area.

While the European Parliament endorsed the introduction of a right for European railway undertakings to offer commercial domestic passenger services in all Member States as from 2019, competitive tendering procedures for public service contracts have been postponed to 2023 and are subject to very significant exceptions. Amendments adopted by the European Parliament today also fail to ensure an effective independence of the infrastructure manager and financial transparency within vertically integrated structures which are essential to ensure an equal and non-discriminatory access to the network.

Next steps

With this vote, the European Parliament has adopted its first reading position on the six legislative proposals of the package. It is now up to the Council to adopt its own position. The Council has so far examined the proposals in a sequential manner and is close to finalising its position on the technical pillar. The examination of the market pillar is expected to start under the ongoing Greek presidency. The Commission can alter or withdraw its proposals as long as the Council has not acted.

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