HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc346-8W
Mr. Dobbin

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what was the outcome of the Transport Council held in Brussels on 9–10 December; and if he will make a statement. [102635]

Mr. Hill

The Transport Council met in Brussels on 9–10 December. My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston represented the United Kingdom.

The Council reached political agreement on a package of three draft directives, which take the opening of the internal market for rail services a significant step further. The package will amend Directives 91/440 and 95/18 and replace Directive 95/19. It will: provide open access for rail freight operators to a Trans-European Rail Freight Network (TERFN), which includes all major terminals and ports; broaden the scope of existing provisions for separation of accounts and certain essential functions between infrastructure management and train service operations; extend Community-wide recognition of train operators' licences to all railway undertakings established in the Community; and establish rules for allocating capacity on railway infrastructure and charging for its use. Conclusions were also adopted on improving interoperability and alleviating rail bottlenecks

The Commission gave a progress report to Council on the definition phase of the Galileo satellite navigation project, including a report on discussions with the US and Russia. Lord Macdonald expressed the UK's disappointment at the pace of work on public-private financing and cost benefit analysis. He said that more work was needed to enable decisions to be taken at the end of 2000 on the future development of satellite navigation in Europe.

There was a debate on the establishment of a European Aviation Safety Authority. The Commission proposed that the new authority should be set up as a Community agency. The UK and some other member states argued that an international body was preferable, as the Council had previously agreed. It would be genuinely pan-European and would have the support of the aviation industry. Following the debate, the Presidency asked the Commission to produce an analysis of its proposal for a Community agency, but also to begin exploratory talks with third countries.

The Commission gave a presentation to the Council on air traffic management in Europe. Referring to lack of ATM capacity as a cause of increasing delays, and to the need for greater cooperation between states, the Commission proposed centralised management of a "Single European Sky". The Commissioner, Mrs. de Palacio, proposed that she should chair a high level group of member states' representatives, to study the issue. It would aim to report to the Transport Council in June 2000.

The Council discussed aviation noise problems. The Commission reported on the latest developments in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on international standards and on its recent consultations with the United States. The Council reaffirmed its commitment to the ICAO process, and repeated that, if the outcome was successful and met the EU' s objectives, existing Community legislation could be replaced by new international rules if these were more favourable. The Commission was invited to look at the issue urgently and propose solutions.

The Commission presented a study on the economic impact of the draft directive on ferry manning, which would ensure that conditions for third country crew members on intra-EC ferry services were at least as favourable as those of EC crew members. The study suggested that the impact would be negligible. The Commission's view remained that the directive would protect jobs in the EU. The UK and some other member states welcomed the report and strongly supported the proposal, which was first put forward during the UK Presidency. The Council will return to the issue at a later date.

The Council held a further debate on proposals for the extension of working time provisions to road transport. There remains disagreement between member states on fundamental issues, including application to the self-employed. Following the debate, the Presidency concluded that the Council should continue to look for solutions.

There was a progress report from the Commission on negotiations with ten Central and Eastern European countries on extension of the aviation single market.

The Council adopted Resolutions on the promotion of short sea shipping and on ways to encourage the greater use of intermodal freight transport. It also adopted a mandate authorising the Commission to commence air transport negotiations with Cyprus.

There were also Commission reports on: indicators on transport and the environment; the recent report of the forum on barriers to innovation in transport, which aimed to produce an action plan by the end of 2000; Community accession to Eurocontrol, on which the Commission hoped that an Accession protocol could be signed at the MATSE VI Conference of aviation Ministers on 27 January; the recent aviation open skies conference in Chicago; and a Commission Communication on air transport and the environment.