Open Access Government discusses Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean’s priorities for digital and green transport in Europe amidst COVID-19
Adina Vălean has been the European Commissioner for Transport since 2019 and is dedicated to contributing to a zero-pollution goal and mitigating the impact of transport on the climate. Speaking on her role, she stated “we all need to join forces to reduce the environmental footprint while at the same time maintaining affordable and available mobility for all. This is my overriding priority, which will guide my policy agenda over the coming five years.”1
The European Green Deal commits to making the European economy carbon-neutral by 2050, and transport is a key contributor as the EU moves towards this goal. Transport is also of great importance for the competitiveness of the European economy. For Europe’s industry to remain competitive, it must undoubtedly be served by a world-class transportation and logistics system, with all modes of transport included. As a part of this, an Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive is currently being evaluated. Vălean plans to leverage public and private funds towards the deployment of publicly accessible recharging or refuelling points for zero-emission vehicles (battery and hydrogen fuel cell.) She comments that “recharging or refuelling alternative fuels vehicles should be as easy as refuelling vehicles with internal combustion engines – everywhere in the EU! We need a comprehensive network that is interoperable across borders, easy to access and affordable to use.”2
Strategy on Sustainable and Smart Mobility
In the view of the Commission, to meet the aims of the European Green Deal, transport must take ambitious measures to help reduce CO2 emissions by 90% by 2050. During a speech in March outlining her new Strategy on Sustainable and Smart Mobility, Vălean commented that the Commission would “look at safety and accessibility, how to address the relevant societal challenges and how to maintain mobility – available and affordable to all, including in remote regions.”3
Thesesocietalchangesaremorerelevantthanever,as the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered every aspect of society – particularly ease of transport. The Strategy will look at how to exploit digitalisation and automation, enhancing connectivity to the next level.
This Strategy will work alongside the European Green Deal to achieve their mutual goals, including the following three:
• Boosting the uptake of clean vehicles and alternative fuels for road, maritime and aviation. It is imperative to accelerate development and market readiness of new technologies and drive the large- scale deployment of infrastructure and production of alternative fuels. This includes two proposals put forward by Vălean on the Commission’s Work Programme: one on sustainable alternative fuels for aviation, and one on maritime transport.
• The revision of the TEN-T Regulation, foreseen for 2021. It must increase the share of more green transport modes and improve efficiency across the whole transport system. Making public transport more attractive, improving its availability and reliability with the wider goal of reducing pollution and congestion.
• Ensuring that consumers have choices when it comes to transport modes and low-emission mobility patterns. The Strategy will describe how we can better internalise the external costs of transport through pricing while maintaining accessibility and affordability.4
COVID-19 is having a major disruptive impact on European transport and mobility, and as stated by Commissioner Vălean, “The EU’s transport network connects the whole of the EU.”5 To protect the EU’s supply chains in these difficult circumstances, and to make sure both goods and transport workers can travel to wherever they are needed, in March the Commission issued new practical advice on how to implement its guidelines for border management, to keep freight moving across the EU during the current pandemic. To ensure that EU-wide supply chains continue to operate, Member States are requested to designate, without delay, all the relevant internal border-crossing points on the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) as ‘green lane’ border crossings open to all freight vehicles.
Vălean highlighted: “Our guidance document is intended to protect the EU’s supply chains in these difficult circumstances, and to make sure both goods and transport workers are able to travel to wherever they are needed – without delay.” Crossing the border, including checks and health screening, should not take more than 15 minutes.
She went on to state that “a collective and coordinated approach to cross-border transport is more important today than ever before. The green lanes are also specifically designed to protect transport workers at the frontline of this crisis. This set of recommendations will ease their already stressful mission, bringing more safety and predictability to their work.”6 To protect these workers, crossings will be streamlined, checks and screening should be carried out without drivers having to leave their vehicles and electronic submission of documents is being accepted.
Since then, the peak of the pandemic has started to pass in many Member States, and Vălean has taken it upon herself to look into the future for green transport, as mobility has significantly been set back in recent months and is “among the hardest hit in this crisis.” “Travel restrictions have grounded aeroplanes; we saw trains, ferries and coaches at a standstill, stranding people from their homes. There were long queues at our internal land borders.” To navigate a successful recovery for the transport sector, Vălean highlights the plans to kick-start the EU economy and work towards a green and digital Europe.
“We still plan on launching our flagship strategy on sustainable and smart mobility this year, knowing that it will have to also take into account the much-needed recovery of the transport sector from COVID-19.”7 This also includes the two initiatives previously underlined by the Commissioner, promoting alternative fuels in both aviation and maritime sectors.
Path to recovery
The EU must recognise that this path to a successful recovery is much needed for its citizens, who depend on mobility and transport for both jobs and day-to-day lives. “This success is something we owe to the workers in this sector, who have not stopped for a minute in this crisis, bringing food and medicines to all in need. They were instrumental and will not be forgotten,” adds Vălean. The priorities are set out clearly with “recovery is also about bolstering the EU economy with the European Green Deal and the Industrial Strategy at its core, it is about restoring human connections and rebooting our European way of life.”8
8 https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019- 2024/valean/announcements/speech-commissioner-valean-commissions-response-covid-19-and-its-effect-transport-sector_en