5 transport headaches facing Europe in 2022

News from Brussels

Source: Politico,

Transport was dominated in 2021 by the two C’s — climate and COVID — and that will still be the case in 2022.

But there's a lot more that will be happening in mobility — from figuring out the details of phasing out combustion engine cars to continuing battles over trucking reforms and the never-ending effort to streamline air traffic services.

Here’s a look at five big transport challenges for 2022. The European Commission spent most of 2021 trying to keep the EU’s internal borders open and restriction-free in the face of successive waves of the coronavirus.

The Digital COVID Certificate allowed the bloc to reboot travel for people who could prove they’re at low risk of contracting the virus following an infection or a jab. But thanks to Omicron, the certificate now has an expiry date — as of February, it will stop being valid without a booster nine months following the first round of vaccinations.

Countries will also have to decide how to update travel rules as the epidemiological situation changes within the bloc, and how they’ll deal with travel from outside the EU.

In the longer run, there’s work to do on the Commission’s strategy to reboot the EU’s Schengen free-travel area and convince countries not to fall back on border closures when the next crisis strikes.

EU negotiators will spend 2022 negotiating a combustion engine phaseout after the Commission proposed 2035 as the end date for the sale of new gasoline and diesel-powered cars and vans in July's Fit for 55 legislative package.

The debate is about when to set the deadline and whether to leave some derogations, such as efforts by countries to allow wiggle room for engines burning clean fuels. The European Parliament’s Rapporteur on CO2 standards legislation, Dutch liberal Jan Huitema, amped up the tempo by calling for a series of mid-point targets ahead of 2035. That's up for debate in the environment committee on 13 January. 

If all goes to plan, both the Council of the EU and the Parliament could have their positions firmed up by the summer break.

Next up, the Commission is set to drop its Euro 7 proposal in April laying out detailed targets for pollutant emissions covering everything from tailpipe exhausts to particulate matter from brakes. That will affect all classes of vehicles.

Finally, the EU is planning a reform of its truck and bus CO2 reduction targets to complete the set of clean vehicle rules. That’s likely to drop in the second half of 2022.

Fit for 55 also includes a highly contentious effort to create a new emissions trading scheme for road transport and buildings, likely to spark a fierce battle among member countries.

The only way to keep the car industry onside with proposals to ditch profitable petrol and diesel vehicles is to move quickly on firming up the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR.) The idea is to compel countries to deploy enough charging infrastructure and hydrogen refueling stations for millions of new clean cars, vans, trucks and buses (along with planes, trains and ships.)

The Slovenian Council presidency devoted at least 14 meetings to the proposal, now it’s up to the French to bring it across the line. Targets for mandating that buildings have recharging points and minimum refueling infrastructure along main roads for trucks promise to be among the touchier subjects. 

The European Parliament’s Rapporteur on AFIR, German Social Democrat Ismail Ertug, has until February to deliver his draft report. He's talked up plans to punish countries that don’t meet deployment targets. That’s likely to rile many capitals.

The file should be done and dusted by the end of 2022.

The Mobility Package trucker reforms were agreed in July 2020 and new driving and rest times rules started applying soon after. But other measures, including one dictating trucks’ regular return to their country of establishment, take effect from February — and that prospect has the reforms’ adversaries up in arms.

Several countries have turned to the Court of Justice of the EU to challenge the measures, but they don’t expect a verdict until later in 2022. In the meantime, they’ve asked the Commission to rescind the requirement, arguing it undermines the EU’s Green Deal ambitions by mandating that often-empty trucks burn fuel by returning to base.

The reform’s backers, meanwhile, argue the measure is crucial to protect the social rights of drivers.

At a December 2021 meeting of Environment Ministers, the Commission’s Green Deal Chief Frans Timmermans talked up a consultation that aims for an “approach that would hopefully solve this problem.” Expect sparks to fly. 

The aviation industry is banking on an EU plan called Single European Sky to make air traffic management more efficient and help meet its climate goals.

More direct routes mean fewer emissions, as well as less waiting around for passengers. The problem? That plan has been stuck for two decades and there’s still no sign of a political breakthrough.

The Slovenian Council presidency was lambasted by MEPs for inflexibility, propping up the Council’s position that prioritised national sovereignty over a pan-European approach. The presidency organised eight negotiations on the file, but got nowhere. It’s up to the French presidency to shepherd the talks and find a consensus between a Parliament that backs the European Commission’s liberalised approach to air traffic control, and countries that prefer things as they are. 

MEPs say they're hopeful, but hints from President Emmanuel Macron about France's priorities suggest caution. The country’s own strong union laws — and the propensity of French air traffic controllers to frequently go on strike — could keep this controversial file blocked.


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