Due to the fact that their predecessors had been rejected by the European Parliament, the hearings of the three Commission candidates, who were subsequently nominated by their Member States, took place on 15th November 2019 before the European Parliament. Particular focus was put on the Rumanian Adina Vălean, who had been recommended for transport matters. Especially this policy area requires significant changes if the EU really wants to achieve the targets of a CO2-neutral continent by 2050 and a socially fair transition.
Subsequent to the rejection of the Rumanian candidate Plump by the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs due to financial conflicts of interest, the new Rumanian government appointed the longtime MEP, Adina Vălean (EPP) as the new Commission candidate for the Transport Portfolio.
In her address before the EU Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism, Vălean emphasised her intention to work for competitive, sustainable, safe and affordable transport in Europe. However, improving the working conditions of employees in the transport sector does not seem to be on top of her agenda: only after being questioned MEPs, she replied to be in favour of setting better social standards. She mentioned vocational training as the most important measure to prepare the workforce for the transport of the future. However, she only marginally mentioned the target of combating wage and social dumping, which not only employees on road transport are subject to but also those working in air transport.
Air transport played a major role in her speech as well as in the questions asked by MEPs. Vălean’s answers regarding the abolition of tax benefits for aviation fuel were very cautions: with the help of better coordination of air transport, she wanted to make it more efficient and thereby more environmentally friendly. However, in view of the international dimension of air transport she regarded the taxation of kerosene only as one of several possible measures. She pointed out that any revenue without hypothecation would go to the Member States, which would make flying instantly more expense, which, however, was to be avoided. This approach is in contrast to the statements made by Commission President-designate Ursula von der Leyen, who, with regard to air transport, had stated before the European Parliament that emissions had to have a price, which would change our behaviour.
In order to make transport more environmentally friendly in Europe, Vălean made a surprisingly clear statement in support of rail transport: following the polluter pays principle, modes of transport should make a fair contribution, whereby the rail sector would play a key role. It was the cleanest way of transportation; a reason why she wanted to transport as many goods as possible by rail. To support and promote transport across national borders, she has set herself the target to remove national obstacles. By providing better information for passengers and making the purchase of tickets easier, she also wants to make switching from one mode of transport to another easier.
Apart from that, Vălean mentioned several targets, which due to their general wording did not lead to controversies: for example, she promised to make traffic safer and to half the number of 25.000 road casualties in Europe per year by 2030. She intends to speedily extent the network of charging points for alternative fuels to promote the transition to cleaner drive systems; moreover, with the help of digitisation she wants to further increase the efficiency of our transport system.
Start of the new Commission on 1st December?
As not only Adina Vălean, but also the subsequently nominated Commission candidates Thierry Breton (France, responsible for Internal Market) and Olivér Várhelyi (Hungary, responsible for Neighbourhood and Enlargement) were confirmed by the European Parliament’s Special Committees, the only thing missing is the approval by the entire Commission by the plenum of the European Parliament. This vote is scheduled for the last week in November. Should approval been given, the Commission could take up its work on 1st December. However, once again the only uncertainty factor is Great Britain who in view of the forthcoming Brexit has not nominated anybody, even though it would be obliged to do so as it is still a full EU Member. The EU Commission has therefore initiated infringement proceedings against Great Britain, as there is a risk that decisions taken by the new Commission without a British Commission member might be challenged.