Bad news for the EC’s Mobility Package and sustainability targets

The European Commission published the results of two commissioned studies to assess the impacts of its Mobility Package I with worrying results.

On February 19, 2021, the European Commission published the results of two commissioned studies to assess the impacts of its Mobility Package and the results are worrying. The first one studied the impacts of the compulsory return of vehicles to the member state of establishment every eight weeks, while the other examined the application of cabotage quotas on international CT (CT) operations. These had not been part of the Commission’s proposals and were introduced by the European Parliament and the Council. The results suggest the obligatory return and quotas imposed on CT operations are likely to have a negative impact, while the provision for cabotage quotas for international CT operations could also lead to negative long-term effects.

The legislation had been adopted in May 2013 and went into effect in the summer of 2020 and is largely aimed at improving working conditions in the road and transport sector. If no new developments interrupt the implementation, the return obligation for lorries and cabotage quotas on international CT operations will take effect from February 21, 2022.

Calls for an impact assessment had been pushed by the Eastern bloc of the EU, citing environmental and competitiveness issues. Lithuania, back by Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta and Poland, had filed two actions against the Mobility Package. The debate around the package had long been widening the rift between Eastern member and Western member states, as the disapproving member states consider the legislation to be protectionist. According to the Bulgarian government, it is also discriminatory and imbalanced towards companies from the peripheries of the EU, as their drivers would be obliged to return to their home countries every eight weeks, resulting in long and potentially environmentally damaging journeys, thus has been calling on the Commission to conduct an impact assessment looking into the increased travel resulting from those proposals

The results of the two assessments appear to be in favour of the issues raised by the eastern bloc, revealing the combined emissions of both provisions could result in 3.3m additional tonnes of CO2 annually, the equivalent of Estonia’s annual total transport emissions.

The results for the obligatory regular return of lorries and the imposed quotas on CT operations show there is a high likelihood for negative effects that includes an increase of transport emissions, which can be in violation of the European Green Deal, as well as the newly introduced Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. Competition within the Single Market can also be negatively affected, “due to the change in available transport capacity in certain market segments, as well as a potential increase in size of firms”.

Among the three assessed scenarios, the most likely shows the creation of additional journeys potentially resulting in up to 2.9m tonnes of additional CO2 emissions in 2023, a 4.6% increase in international road freight emissions. It also underlined the fact that the provision will overwhelmingly affect Eastern member states over Western ones. According to the assessment, vehicles from Eastern member states constitute 87% of cross-trade and 75% of cabotage operations, while 62% of overall international freight activity is also being carried out by them. The study considers its Simple Market Compliance scenario to be the most likely (more straightforward, requiring fewer adjustments and Eastern member states retain competitive position within the market), however, it also results in the highest increases in impact on number of journeys (2.0%), impact on vehicle kilometres (4.8%) and lastly and crucially, impact on CO2 emissions (4.6%).

Meanwhile, the study examining the cabotage quotas for international CT operations provided an estimation that the widespread use by member states of the option to introduce them might result in an additional 397,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, along with negative long-term effects. According to the assessment, the application of new rules on CT road legs is estimated to affect around 32% of total CT volumes, i.e., a third of CT activities would require different arrangement in order to comply with the rules. The report concludes, the consequences would be that CT operations could fully shift back to road-only transport and weaken the competitiveness of rail, a transport mode the EU was seeking to strengthen, while also increasing emissions. Especially train connections in Northern and Eastern EU are vulnerable as they could be reduced, decreasing overall access to rail services. This would go against the EU’s efforts to grow its rail transport share in transporting people and goods, in an effort to rely more on climate-friendly modes.

While the Commission did not comment further on the issue, it did state its intention to open a discussion about future steps with member states, the European Parliament and all including parties. Predictions about the future of the Mobility Package remain difficult to make, however, an increase in emissions up to 3.3m additional tonnes of CO2, seems counterintuitive if the goal of its comprehensive European Green Deal is to be climate neutral by 2050.

Source: Transport Intelligence, February 23, 2021

Author: Dila Cebeci

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