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In his three-hour hearing before the European Parliament's Transport Committee, Commissioner-designate Siim Kallas set out his plans for a sustainable European transport policy that "truly benefits citizens and businesses". MEPs questioned him on the transport sector's greenhouse gas emissions, passenger rights, rail liberalisation and the use of "body-scanners" for airline security.
"Free movement is one of the greatest freedoms of European citizens. And modern transport makes a fundamental contribution to this freedom", said Mr Kallas in his opening statement.
Speaking in English, he set out his views on climate change, balancing environmental and social standards with business competitiveness, harmonising the rail system, road safety, and the need for "strong and coherent funding systems" for European transport policy.
He also condemned Member States which have introduced airport "body scanners" without awaiting common EU standards.
Contribution to the fight against climate change
Transport is the only sector which has failed to reduce its greenhouse emissions over the last ten years, pointed out Matthieu Grosch (EPP, BE) and Saïd El Khadraoui (S&D, BE). It is responsible for one third of CO2 emissions in Europe and "eats up the progress made in other sectors towards emissions reductions", added Michael Cramer (Greens/EFA, DE).
"Decarbonisation is not debatable", replied Mr Kallas, adding that "we have binding targets for the reduction of emissions by 2020 and we will make the necessary legislative proposals".
On the "internalisation of external costs" linked to transport pollution, Mr Kallas said that the EU's Climate Change Agenda "makes it imperative to make progress" towards applying the "adequate pricing mechanisms" in all modes of transport.
Plans for the "Eurovignette" levy on lorries would be pushed forward by the Commission, he said, but progress in negotiating them would probably have to wait until the Belgian Presidency in the second half of 2010. Mr Kallas also made clear his concern for business interests and stressed the need to strike the right balance between green regulation and profitability. "We must be careful not to have a compromise that leaves everyone unsatisfied", he said.
Aviation emissions and ETS
Questioned by Michael Cramer (Greens, DE) and Christine De Veyrac (EPP, FR) on how to ensure the aviation industry bears some of the cost of climate change, Mr Kallas agreed that the EU should push further for the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to be applied to the sector. However, when asked if he would use the ETS revenue to fund the EU's green common policies, he observed that this would be impossible, as ETS revenue goes to Member States, not the EU. He did however indicate that he would be ready to negotiate on the question.
Air security: body scanners
"I am in favour of a single EU regulation on body scanners", said the Commissioner- designate, adding that "it is very bad that some Member States already use body scanners in the absence of any EU common standards".
"Can scanners really help prevent terrorism?" asked Tanja Fajon (S&D, SL), echoing concerns prompted by the terrorist attempt on the Amsterdam to Detroit flight of 25 December.
"Body scanners can increase security, but no measure is 100% sure", replied Mr Kallas, adding that "body scanners are not the panacea for airline security." He nonetheless insisted that people's fears "must be addressed" and reiterated that the EU should agree common rules on the issue.
Railway harmonisation and liberalisation
Gesine Meissner (ALDE, DE) asked Mr Kallas for his views on the liberalisation and harmonisation of rail transport. "I am in favour of open competition. It brings benefits to all sectors", he replied, saying he aimed to "remove the obstacles" to the proper functioning of transport, including political and administrative hindrances and technical barriers, such as incompatible signalling systems for trains.
Mr Kallas advocated making more use of EU regional and structural funds to improve rail networks. He also proposed creating a "European Infrastructure Investments Fund" and assured MEPs that he would heed their request for a commitment of 40% of the EU transport budget to the rail sector.
Road safety and passenger rights
Questioned by Inès Ayala Sender (S&D, ES) and Jim Higgins (EPP, IE) about the state of play on EU plans for cross-border enforcement of sanctions for road offences, Mr Kallas said he regretted that the Council had rejected the proposals. "We must push this legislation forward", he insisted, adding that he would also ensure that Intelligent Transport Systems were properly implemented at EU level, to help reduce traffic accidents and fatalities.
Ádám Kósa (EPP, HU) complained about the inconsistency of various EU regulations on passenger rights. He argued that a single European charter, applicable to all modes of transport, would prevent differing interpretations and poor implementation. Mr Kallas said that he would be prepared to study proposals for a "common code" on passenger rights.
In the chair : Brian SIMPSON (S&D, UK)