HC Deb 24 March 1998 vol 309 cc85-6W
Mrs. Dunwoody

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what was the result of the Transport Council held in Brussels on 17 March. [36417]

Dr. Strang

The first Transport Council of the current UK Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers met under my Chairmanship in Brussels on 17 March. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London represented the United Kingdom.

I particularly welcome the progress the Council was able to make on proposals for establishing a new European Aviation Safety Authority. There is strong support among Member States for these proposals, and it was agreed that work should continue with the aim of adopting a Council decision in June. The Council also took note of progress on a draft negotiating mandate for Community membership of the EUROCONTROL air traffic management organisation, again with a view to adoption in June.

The Council discussed the Community's role in EC/US air transport negotiations, in the light of the Commission's existing mandate and a recommendation by the Commission for supplementary negotiating directives. It was agreed that officials should undertake further technical work with a view to more extensive discussion at the June Council. Several Ministers expressed regret that the Commission has recently sent Reasoned Opinions to a number of Member States.

The Council reached a common position on a Regulation on vehicle national identification signs, under which Member States would not require a separate national sign where on is already included (in specified form) in the vehicle number plate, and (with Germany abstaining) adopted a Regulation on the harmonisation of statistics on the movement of freight by road. The council agreed Conclusions welcoming the Commission's recent Communication on satellite navigation systems.

The Council made significant progress in its consideration of the proposed directive on heavy goods vehicle taxation and charging. The Presidency put forward a compromise proposal, with further modifications in response to concern expressed by delegations, but agreement proved beyond reach.

The Commission reported on its negotiations with the Swiss Government on proposals for a land transport agreement between the Community and Switzerland. Following clarification of some outstanding points, a substantial number of delegations were broadly supportive. Presidency Conclusions reflecting the Council discussion were drawn. The General Affairs Council will take the final decision for the Community on a series of proposed agreements with Switzerland.

Several delegations requested a study into the employment effects of the abolition in 1999 of duty-free sales for intra-Community travel. I agreed to forward the comments raised to the Chairman of ECOFIN.

I made a short statement on the Presidency's plans to present a paper to the June Council on the subject of transport safety across the modes. This will set out proposals for exchanges of information and regular reporting by the Commission on safety in all modes and in all EU Member States.