TRAN Committee discusses Maltese Presidency priorities
On January 25, the TRAN Committee heard and discussed the priorities of the EU Maltese Presidency in the area of transport and tourism.
Joe Mizzi, Minister of Transport and Infrastructure of Malta, began by saying that for the past 60 years, Europe has proven to be a beacon of hope, peace and prosperity, this being the result of the vision of the fathers of the European project. On the 60th anniversary of the EU, it is up to Malta to continue to prove this and to guide the EU, he said. He added that this was the time to take stock of what has been achieved, to protect it and to communicate the benefits of the EU project to the European citizens. In his opinion, Europe needs a new momentum and recent developments have shown that the EU needs to move closer to its citizens and effectively communicate its measures and give the opportunities to achieve what the EU citizens need to achieve. Political developments have also showed that the EU is equally in need of reforms. Therefore, the EU project as it is known must be tackled. Minister Mizzi declared that Malta was ready to contribute to this project and therefore aspires to work with the Parliament during this Presidency. He acknowledged that six months was a short period of time, but he committed on behalf of the Maltese Presidency team to be realistic. He said that they are presenting themselves as honest interlocutors, with no hidden agendas and are therefore looking forward to working with the Parliament in a spirit of honesty and collaboration. He highlighted the fact that some of the Maltese Ministers were themselves MEPs and hence, have an understanding of the importance of the role of the Parliament. Minister Mizzi declared himself proud that Malta has the helm of the Presidency at this moment. Their main priority is to create a new fresh momentum that will bring citizens together. The EU Maltese Presidency identified a series of priority areas to be addressed, such as migration, the Single market, the neighbourhood policy, social inclusion and maritime transport.
In terms of priorities in the area of transport, Mr Mizzi said that in the course of the preparations, he had the opportunity to meet with many people and these meetings have been instrumental in giving a better understanding of the current priorities and concerns. He said that transport affects the EU as a whole and its citizens and that the EU has established a sound legal framework aimed towards an efficient, safe, secure and environmentally-friendly transport system, which is helping to boost growth and jobs. During the coming six months, he committed to maintain the momentum and work closely with the Parliament to fully integrate the transport single market by making full use of digitisation. The Maltese Presidency will build on the work done by the Dutch and Slovak Presidencies to enhance the sustainability and competitiveness of the EU transport sector and reinforce the functioning of the internal market, he said.
The Maltese Presidency intends to maintain the maritime transport high on the political agenda, recalling the need for a more competitive and sustainable maritime sector, maintaining an overarching guiding principle that shipping is a global industry which is regulated at global level. He said that the maritime sector will be showcased as a modern industry, ready to further embrace digitisation and the obligations towards a cleaner industry. He highlighted the need to showcase this industry’s the positive attributes and its sustainable benefits, as this is in his opinion, the only way to be able to attract EU youth to take up the maritime profession.
He said that everyone agrees that safeguarding the safety of the EU citizens must be kept at the forefront of all transport modes. Enhancing passenger safety is important and therefore, the Maltese Presidency will treat the three passenger safety proposals as a priority, the intention being to start the negotiations with the Parliament as soon as possible and to conclude them by the end of term.
With respect to passenger ships engaged in international voyages, the Presidency is committed to facilitate the coordination of the work that the EU has been pursuing on passenger ship safety in the framework of IMO.
The Presidency is committed to the environmental objective to reduce the discharge of ship-generated waste and cargo residues in the sea, in view of the upgrading of the Port Reception Facilities Directive. The existing directive is outdated and therefore requests an update to align to the present needs of the maritime sector. The Presidency hopes for a timely adaption of the proposal.
With respect to the Proposal for a Directive on the recognition of professional qualifications in inland waterways, the intention of the Presidency is to build on the work done by the previous Presidencies and continue negotiations with the Parliament. Although more work is needed, he was convinced that together they would be able to identify appropriate solutions and a common ground. Malta does not have inland waterways, but nevertheless understands the importance of this file as a building block to achieve the goals of the TEN-T. Inland waterways are a vital part of the core network and the recognition of professional qualifications within Member States having inland waterways connected with navigable ways is instrumental in contributing to smooth cargo flows and interconnectivity in the TEN-T.
In relation to land transport, the Maltese Presidency will take up two upcoming proposals. Firstly, negotiations on the Commission Proposal for a review of the Directive on initial qualifications and periodic training for professional drivers will be initiated. This directive needs to be updated to reflect current realities pertaining to mutual recognitions, exemptions, age requirements and to align it with other pieces of legislation. This proposal is foreseen not only to improve road safety and safety of drivers, but also to strengthen the internal market and set up a level playing field for drivers employed by undertakings in the EU. As the Commissioner pointed out in this committee back in December, the Maltese Presidency plans to host a ministerial conference focusing on road safety. Mr Mizzi said that their intention is to adopt a declaration for future political direction addressing road safety and to instigate debate on a number of issues and reach an agreement on specific targets.
Secondly, the Maltese Presidency will also take forward the upcoming Proposal for a revision of the Rail Passenger Regulation, aimed at improving the user experience within the EU. Since Malta has no railway system, Mr Mizzi felt that they could also accommodate neutral discussions and act as an honest broker throughout the Presidency.
The Maltese Presidency is ready to facilitate the coordination among Member States related to the international dimension of transport, in particular with respect to IMO and ICAO. The holistic climate agreement reached in Paris provided a positive momentum for the negotiations in ICAO and IMO regarding reducing GHG emissions from international aviation and maritime transport. The Maltese Presidency intends to maintain this momentum and is particularly interested to support developing a IMO comprehensive strategy to reduce GHG emissions from ships. The only way to achieve success in this respect is to engage with IMO Member States. For this reason, Minister Mizzi said that he personally took the initiative to invite key non-EU countries to participate in a ministerial conference in Malta focusing on the sustainability of maritime transport.
Minister Mizzi concluded his statement by emphasising the intention to work efficiently and effectively to achieve common interests and make the transport sector a safe, secure, clean and competitive one. He further added that their programme is ambitious and for executing it, they depend on the cooperation of the Parliament. He said that their mandate is focusing on transport and will do the utmost to make it inclusive. He invited MEPs to visit Malta and to participate at the conferences which will be organised on the various topics.
Dr Edward Zammit Lewis, Minister for Tourism of Malta, following up on what has been said by Minister Mizzi, presented the main priorities in aviation and tourism. The Aviation Package is an initiative generating growth, fostering innovation, developing the Single Market and strengthening the EU as a global actor within the international scenario. The Maltese Presidency is set to address the challenges in this sector by focusing on regulatory concerns, while facilitating the development of the economic aspects surrounding aviation which would contribute to economic growth and job creation.
With respect to air transport and the revision of the EASA Basic Regulation, the Maltese Presidency considers this file a priority as it touches upon the safety of the EU citizens. The co-legislators want a safe and efficient aviation sector. Correspondingly, the interdependency with other sectors, such as aviation security and environmental protection, are fully taken into account. The Council has adopted a General Approach with regard to this file, ensuring a balanced text, on which basis the negotiations with the Parliament could begin as soon as possible. The Presidency is committed to make all efforts to reach an agreement with the Parliament. He was confident that they can work together effectively on this files. Negotiations call for flexibility on both sides, he emphasised, and such an agreement would be an important milestone for the EU aviation sector aiming at the highest level of protection.
With regard to the upcoming Proposal on the Regulation on the protection against subsidisation and unfair pricing practices, the Maltese Presidency will seek to initiate negotiations to make as much progress as possible. Member States and industry have been asking constantly to revisit this, for the current regulation is not feasible in practice. He strongly believed that a new proposal should aim to facilitate the development of a more appropriate instrument to safeguard fair competition in EU external aviation relations. With regard to air transport agreements with third countries, the Maltese Presidency will seek to make progress in the negotiations already on the table and possibly, discuss new agreements. This would reinforce high standards of security, safety and competition and environmental protection.
Minister Zammit Lewis said that the EU cannot neglect the importance of the tourism sector, which is a major contributor to the European economy. Malta will encourage discussions aimed at increasing the visibility of the tourism sector and to encourage more policies aimed to improve the competitiveness of the European tourism sector. Malta recognises the importance of strengthening the Single Market for the sector, a functioning one having the advantage to stimulate competition, improve efficiency, raise quality and help reduce costs for businesses. The full exploitation of the Single Market and the effective development of the Digital Single Market will bring tangible benefits to the EU economy, families and businesses by removing remaining barriers and improving access to services. In the past years, novel technologies have brought about a revolution in the way in which people travel. The collaborative economy is nothing new, the emergence of online platforms has fuelled diversification and helped flourish the collaborative economy. While the EU must make the most of this opportunity, the EU must also strive to ensure a level playing field for the EU’s tourism operators. The Maltese Presidency recognises the importance of initiatives been taken at EU and international level such as the 2018 EU-China Year and the European Year for Cultural Heritage. Tourism is linked with culture and therefore he believed that they should work together to improve the EU tourism products, attract tourists from China, which is the largest outbound market, in order to be able to maintain position as a top tourism destination. Malta considers that addressing these challenges and opportunities is essential for the improvement of the competitiveness of the tourism sector at EU level. Thus, the Maltese Presidency will be organising a tourism high-level conference at the end of May, which will provide an appropriate platform to discuss thematic issues to increase competitiveness of the European tourism product. Another necessary priority is reaffirming of the Chinese tourism market within the EU block. He believed that the EU should not lose the opportunity to take a big part of the market share. In recognition of the EU-China Year, they will organise a joint conference with the UNWTO bringing together states and stakeholders.
In relation to priorities in the maritime sector, Minister Zammit Lewis stressed the promotion of the Blue Growth initiative as the maritime contribution to achieve the EU 2020 Strategy goals for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Seas and oceans are drivers for the EU economy and have potential for innovation and growth and can create opportunities for growth and high value added jobs which could increase the competitiveness of the coastal tourism. He believed that the EU should address innovatively the seasonality issue so to take advantage of the coastal areas all year around. By way of concluding, Minister Zammit Lewis stressed the importance of the aviation sector and connectivity which directly influences the tourism sector. Recognising the importance of aviation for growth and jobs, the Maltese Presidency is relentless to provide a platform for exchange of views and dialogue. Today’s globalised world marks the necessity of the appropriate transport connectivity for all EU citizens and businesses. The Maltese Presidency will work in these six months to achieve progress on the files on the table and to contribute as much as possible to competitiveness. He assured the MEPs that the efforts will be made by all of his colleagues and took the opportunity to follow the discussions in Malta and to hold a Tourism Task Force meeting in Malta.
Wim van de Camp (EPP, NL) thanked for the presentation of the priorities and welcomed the focus on tourism. He spoke about his experience with smaller EU countries, saying that they are somehow able to move things forward quicker than big Member States. Coming back to tourism, he considered a positive thing to have tourists coming to Europe as they could in this way spread European values. However, he recommended caution when it comes to travel restrictions and open Schengen borders. On transport generally, he was delighted to hear that attention is devoted to the contact with citizens. On the aviation sector, he said that the regulation 862 was not mentioned and the air passenger rights. With regard to Gibraltar, he hoped that they could achieve some progress. On the Road Package, he considered road safety a priority and was happy to see digitisation taken further.
Ismail Ertug (S&D, DE) was pleased to see that the Maltese Presidency is committed to present Europe as the world top destination. He believed that however more could be done. He wondered what could be done in the Council of Ministers to make the EU visa regime rather more flexible. In relation to China, the number of tourists is steadily increasing and therefore, action must be taken. He agreed with the need for progress on the revision of the EASA Basic Regulation. He was interested to know what the Parliament could do to shine a light in the automated driving area.
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