Newsletter 16/2011 - From Brussels angle
INTERVIEW with Marjeta Jager, Director, Directorate General Mobility and Transport, European Commission
Improved railway services should be a key priority for all South East European partners
Ms Jager, what is the European Union’s priority for action today in the domain of EU railways and how do you see European railways of tomorrow?
Today, rail presents one of the best chances for unlocking a new age of sustainability. However, before rail is to live up to its full potential, a lot of work will still need to be done. Despite its obvious advantages, rail still suffers from a fragmented rail market with a range of standards as well as from a lack of competitiveness in respect to other transport modes. To enhance the appeal of rail, the rail transport market will need to be fully opened to competition, the interoperability of national networks will need to be improved and the infrastructure will need to be further maintained and developed.
The Commission's new White Paper develops these three ideas and even goes beyond them. It recognises that in order to reduce transport's impact on the environment, rail will have to take on a significantly greater proportion of medium and long distance freight. This will involve considerable investment to expand or upgrade the capacity of the rail network. An important part of this will be high-speed railway lines. High-speed rail is already rapidly becoming an attractive alternative to aviation for visiting cities within Europe. The length of the existing high-speed rail network shall be tripled by 2030, while the European high-speed rail network should be completed by 2050.
In any case, technology will play a vital role in improving the efficiency, safety and quality of rail services. For instance, once the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) has been fully implemented, Europe will enjoy a common standard that will enable trains to cross national borders while enhancing safety.
How does the EU transcribe its requirements and standards to candidate or potential candidate countries from South East Europe (SEE)?
The European Union (EU) is not only creating an internal market for railways within its own borders, but it is also extending its rules to third countries, thereby improving the conditions for international rail traffic.
Transposition of the rail legislation, the so-called "community acquis" to the Western Balkans - in particular regarding the candidate countries - is part of "Chapter 14" of the negotiations. Furthermore, the European Union has proposed to its SEE partners to be better integrated into the EU transport system through the establishment of a Transport Community Treaty. The Treaty, the signing of which is still pending, in order to be applicable requires that SEE partners transpose the full EU transport (and related) legislation in their own legislation. This is a pre-condition for the reciprocal opening of our respective rail markets, to the benefit of EU and SEE citizens and companies.
In addition to improving their chances of being accepted into the EU, there are many intrinsic economic benefits for these countries to gain by meeting the institutional framework set by the EU. The main objectives behind the rail reforms introduced in Europe in the 1990s were to improve competition; create more and better integrated international freight rail services; improve the efficient use of infrastructure capacity; facilitate the creation of a single European rail space; and increase the share of rail compared to other transport modes. These objectives are as relevant today, if not more so, to the SEE countries as they are to the EU Member States themselves.
What would you single out as the segment that requires urgent action when it comes to railways in SEE?
One of the main handicaps of the rail sector in SEE, together with the obsolescence of the infrastructure and of the rolling stock, is the fragmentation of the network. SEE network is more a "patchwork" of lines more than a real network that could correspond to the mobility needs of the economy and the society at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. This is a consequence of the history – past and recent – but also of the lack of coordination at regional level to build efficient rail infrastructure. Furthermore, it must be recalled that since the early 1980s, a clear priority was given to the development of the road network, at the expense of investments in rail.
For this reason, the European Commission has signed in 2004 a Memorandum of Understanding with seven SEE partners creating "SEETO" (South East Europe Transport Observatory), which aims at promoting coordination of infrastructure and transport policy development at the regional level.
In this context, scarce public resources need to be used efficiently and effectively to finance the necessary upgrades in rail infrastructure and essential passenger and freight services, not to prop up inefficient state railways weighed by excessive employee numbers and outdated management practices. The ultimate aim of the reforms is to improve railway services, which should be considered as a key priority for all SEE partners.
How do you assess the role of the Regional Cooperation Council in terms of promotion of regional railway cooperation?
As you know, the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) is an important platform for advancing cooperation in South East Europe, by supporting the European integration of the countries of the region.
The RCC operates under the political guidance of the South-East European Cooperation Process. Being the main focal point for regional cooperation, the RCC has a key role in supporting economic and social development and promoting the region’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration, of which regional cooperation is an essential part. Linking the region with the donor community in areas with a regional dimension is another important aspect of its work.
Marjeta Jager has been Director at the European Commission since 2005. She is now responsible for General Policy at the Commission’s Directorate General for Mobility and Transport. Prior to that, she served as Director of Security of Persons, Goods and Installations within the Directorate General for Energy and Transport, Deputy Permanent Representative, Minister Plenipotentiary - Coreper I Representative of the Republic of Slovenia to the European Communities (2002-2004), State Under-Secretary in the Cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (2002). Ms Jager holds a Bachelor degree in Law and International Law from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia and is a barrister.