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House adjourned at five minutes before two o'clock.
My letters of 4 October to the Chairmen of the Lords and Commons Scrutiny Committees, placed in the Library of each House, outlined prospects for the Transport Council on 6 October which I chaired and which Stephen Ladyman attended for the UK. This Statement summarises the outcome of that Council.
The council had an exchange of views on the proposed directive extending market access to international rail passenger services (part of the third rail package). This would allow licensed rail companies to run such services, including carrying passengers between stations in the same country (cabotage). A large majority of member states supported the principle of opening the market for such services. Most also supported the proposition that market access should be limited only where necessary to safeguard public services, as the Commission proposal envisages. Most member states supported the proposed date of 1 January 2010 for opening the market. A large majority supported the principle of including cabotage, though some felt that cabotage should be phased in later.
The council also considered the relationship between the rail market access proposal and the Commission's recent proposal for a regulation on public service obligations (PSOs) in land transport. There was general acknowledgement that certain provisions of the PSO proposal were closely linked to the rail market access proposal and that these needed further clarification. However, very few member states considered that the two dossiers needed to be agreed at the same time.
Following this useful exchange of views, I informed the council that the UK presidency would work on the basis of the views expressed, noting that agreement of the rail market access proposal might be possible at the 5 December Transport Council.
On EU-US aviation, the Commissioner reported to the council on progress made in recent technical talks with the US. He requested the council's support for an early resumption of formal negotiations. In the interventions which followed, several member states restated the need for significant improvements in the June 2004 offer. I concluded for the presidency that there was unanimous support for resuming talks. However, there could be no guarantee of success, and an agreement would have to deliver real benefits to both sides. An agreement could be in stages, but if so there would have to be a commitment on both sides to
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completion. The council and the presidency would work closely with the Commission to achieve a good outcome.
Also in the field of aviation external relations, the commissioner reported on progress in the negotiations with third countries on inclusion of community designation clauses in their bilateral air service agreements with member states.
The council reached a general approach on a regulation on the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air. The aim of this proposal is twofold: to prevent persons being refused carriage on the basis of disability or reduced mobility; and to guarantee the provision, without additional charge, of the assistance needed by disabled persons and those with reduced mobility to have effective opportunities for air travel. I expressed the hope that early agreement with the European Parliament might be possible.
Also discussed over lunch was the innovative electronic ministerial consultation recently staged by the UK presidency on the mid-term review of the Commission White Paper. Our initiative was well received. The Commission said that the review would issue in 2006, to give time for more input from member states, and noted agreement on three main areas for EU-level action; infrastructure TENs to support mobility and EU competitiveness; safety; and sustainable development. The main comments of member states focussed on the need to manage the further inevitable increase in road traffic. Modal shift should be about encouraging all alternative modesi.e. diversity and interoperability. The closing statement together with the opening statement are publicly available on the Department for Transport website at www.dft.gov.uk/stellent/groups/dftabout/documents/page/dftabout038723.hcsp and the UK presidency website at www.eu2005.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket%2FXcelerate%2F ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1079979819948&action =search&sf=mini&referrer=EUPres&stq=0& pubId=1079979670810&q=transport+white+ paper.
The Commission, in its report under AOB on aviation safety said that effective safety would require work on several fronts, including: developing the role of EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency); work to develop and manage a Community blacklist of carriers banned from operating in the EU; development of the
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SAFA (safety assessment of foreign aircraft) programme; and effective engagement with ICAO to improve international safety standards.
The Commission noted that its report on aviation security had shown that although overall standards were high, there were several areas for improvement. There was scope for Community standards to be applied more flexibly. The Commission had therefore proposed a new regulation (to replace Regulation 2320/2002).
The Commission made a statement on state aid for regional airports, introducing its new guidelines on funding of regional airports. The guidelines reflected
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an ECJ ruling which said that provision of infrastructure should not be to the detriment of competitors. There should be no funding for services which might compete with high speed rail services.
The Commission recalled that the Council had reached conclusions on 9 December 2004 to start the Galileo deployment and operational phases. In view of delays and funding/spending concerns in some member states, the Commission urged member states to work together to resolve current difficulties, as there was a need to make progress on the public-private partnership. The presidency agreed that early resolution was essential to deliver the project in budget and on time.
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