On 20 February 2020, Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean presented the Committee on Transport and Tourism of the European Parliament the focus areas of the new Commission for the current year. However, the following debate with MEPs was dominated by the tense situation at the Brenner Pass, which might result in new infringement proceedings against Austria.
The Romanian Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean had been invited to appear before the Transport Committee to report on the focus areas of the Commission for the current year. The transport system of the future shall be a sustainable and intelligent one and provide citizens with an affordable, comprehensive and safe offer. All traffic carriers shall play their part and make a contribution to achieving the targets of the European Green Deal; hence, a CO2-neutral continent by 2050. That is why a strategy for sustainable and smart mobility shall be presented before the end of the year.
However, when it was the turn of MEPs to ask questions, the focus was clearly on the Commissioner’s journey to Tyrol and Italy, which had created a great stir. Among other, the media quoted Adina Vălean’s statement, Austria should leave the Single Market, if it wanted to hold on to various driving bans. Vălean did not retract her statements: “Unilateral solutions taken to restrict traffic by regional authorities cannot be accepted on European level on European corridors. Today, it is Tyrol and tomorrow it will be another region who would consider that too many trucks are passing there. And this would be the end of the European Union and the end of the Internal Market in the transport sector.” She wants to continue the talks with the Tyrolian Government to find a solution. However, she is in favour of a corridor toll, which was proposed by her predecessor.
Whilst Tyrolian MEP Barbara Thaler (ÖVP) referred to the lack of development regarding the access routes in Italy and above all in Germany, MEP Markus Ferber (CSU) asked the Commissioner whether she would be willed to initiate infringement proceedings against Austria due to its “unilateral measures”, which in his opinion would be directed against non-Austrian hauliers. She answered the question in the affirmative.
These “unilateral measures” refer first and foremost to the so-called “sectoral driving ban” – this prohibits the transport of “rail-affine” goods (e.g. wood, waste) on the Inn Valley motorway. However, at the same time a number of exemptions apply: short distance transports are exempt and so are transports with new and clean HGVs, independent of the length of the transport route. The ECJ has overturned the sectoral driving ban regulation twice already (2001 and 2011). In contrast to both repealed regulations, the sectoral driving ban, which was adopted in 2016, does not concern HGVs of the cleanest generation. That is why the Commission announced in February 2017 that it would halt the new proceedings against Austria.
The questions asked by MEPs secondly focused on the status of negotiations regarding the Mobility Package. In particular, MEPs of the newer Member States voiced their hostile stance concerning the compromise between Council and Parliament. Vălean defended the compromise, referring to the improved protection of workers as an important step. However, from the AK’s point of view, improvements regarding driving times and rest periods for professional drivers as well as the application of the Posting of Workers Directive for Bus and HGV Drivers are negligible. The Commission is still working on the impact assessment regarding the compromise that HGVs have to return to the country of registration in eight week intervals at the latest. However, the Romanian Commissioner did not want to commit herself regarding the question, when the work will be complete and whether the Commission would afterwards open the discussion on the Mobility Package again.