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About three weeks ago, the European Commission presented its new plans on the further liberalisation of railways. A few days ago, Transport Committee MEPs debated the so-called Fourth Railway Package. The separation of railway operations and infrastructure, the funding of European railway infrastructure, the working conditions for personnel as well as public transport were key subjects of the discussion.
Following the introduction to the key points of the Fourth Railway Package by EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas – we already reported on the Commission proposal in our AK EUROPA Newsletter dated 31 January 2013, see also 4 Fourth Railway Package – the next folly of the European Commission - a large number of MEPs joined in the discussion.

With regard to mandatory tendering of public transport services, MEP Saïd El Khadraoui of the Social Democrats criticised the danger of cherry picking: hence, profitable lines could go to private rail operators, whilst the public sector would be stuck with loss-making lines. The result would be higher losses for the public sector. El Khadraoui also sees a danger that private operators could increase rail fares, as their first question in respect of providing services would be how much revenue this service would generate (and not, what kind of service they could provide to society). His colleague Jörg Leichtfried took the same line. Currently, profitable lines would co-finance loss-making lines. Given the concept of the Commission, how shall this work in future? asked Leichtfried Transport Commissioner Kallas, to which the latter failed to give a reply. Leichtfried also questioned the idea to separate infrastructure and operations: there were railway companies, where separation had been effective, whilst at the same time companies existed where there had been no separation and where the company was also successful. One example would be the Swiss system. However, a negative example was British Rail, where the private railway system had been a failure. His Spanish colleague Ayala Sender pointed out that emphasis should be placed on the social component for railway staff.

The Green MEP Michael Cramer criticised the lack of intermodal competition. There were too many gaps: for example, fees had to be paid for all rail routes, but not for the road. Airlines would not have to pay tax on kerosene, but the rail had to pay for the energy consumed.

EU representative Mathieu Grosch of the European People’s Party addressed different subjects. MEPs had insisted on an efficient rail system for years. An important fundamental condition to achieve this was a strong independent regulator. The technical interoperability of the European railways, mentioned by the Commission had to be supported. However, one had to criticise the Council Decision to cut the funds for European rail projects, proposed by the Commission, from 2014.

Grosch’s colleague Georges Bach did also not hold back with critical remarks. He asked the Commission why EU officials wanted to force competition at any price. The Social Democrat Knut Fleckenstein thinks it is a contradiction to retain on the one hand the option of a holding structure (infrastructure and operations under one roof), but to attach so many conditions to it on the other that a holding could not be maintained in practice.

Over the coming weeks, MEPs will draw up reports on the legislative proposals. However, the European Parliament has yet to appoint the competent representatives for the individual Commission proposals, whereby a time schedule for the vote both in Transport Committee and plenum must also be agreed first.