Violeta Bulc, the new European commissioner for transport, a relative newcomer to politics, has been kept busy since starting her new job last year. The enthusiastic Slovenian entrepreneur was keen to tell the Parliament Magazine how her first 100 days have played out, saying, "it is a very exciting time to be working in transport. I really believe we are on the verge of a new paradigm in this area. Digitalisation and innovation are coming to transport. In fact it’s happening already, bringing with it a whole new array of opportunities: opportunities for businesses to ‘deliver the goods’, but also new opportunities for ordinary people to find new ways of getting from one place to another. Still, we need to find even more synergy between industry, high-tech services and infrastructure."
The commissioner also elaborates on her long term vision, explaining that she hopes, "to see transport rise to a new level of service for people and business", adding, "we need to enable Europe’s transport and logistics system to meet the needs of citizens and businesses, now and in the future."
Bulc’s efforts will be boosted this term thanks to the new commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s €315bn strategic investment fund, and she is keen to ensure the funds are used to update Europe’s transport infrastructure effectively.
"It is a very exciting time to be working in transport. I really believe we are on the verge of a new paradigm in this area"
On the issue, the commissioner says that, "the Juncker investment plan is very timely. For years, Europe has neglected investment to maintain its world-class infrastructure. Now there is an urgent need to address this investment gap, since it is harming our connectivity and competitive position. Transport can play a big role in the €315bn investment fund launched by the commission. A task force of experts has provided a list of 2000 potential projects worth €1.3 trillion, with 29 per cent of them being related to the transport sector. Of course this list is just a starting point; projects need thorough examination, and there is no automatic financing or preferential access."
The commissioner is also aware that there are financial limitations, however, she is optimistic that these limitations will not prevent her from achieving her goals. Bulc reveals the, "new investment fund will be used to support many projects that have been postponed due to the crisis. Expectations are high, but so are our capabilities. The investment plan is underpinned by the logic of attracting private investors, creating a viable pipeline of more complex projects, and establishing technical support and advice at all levels. I particularly want to stress that the investment plan will deliver better value for money. By absorbing investment risks that the private sector may be reluctant to take in the current economic environment, a small share of public money can attract private sources of finance, to invest in projects which would otherwise not have been funded due to the high uncertainty."
Regarding key issues for her term, the commissioner highlights that she will, "put aviation in the spotlight this year", adding, "we are well aware of the strategic significance of aviation for the entire EU economy, and also well aware of the enormous challenges the sector is currently facing: a highly competitive business environment of global players, in particular from the emerging economies. As such, I plan to come forward with an aviation strategy, to boost competitiveness and push for fairer competition. We also need to look at an EU approach to drones, to uphold safety and to generate worldwide business opportunities."
Bulc also welcomes the new commission structure, saying, "I am rather lucky in that my portfolio can make a substantive contribution to several of the ‘project teams’ coordinated by the vice-presidents".
"Intelligent transport systems, mobility as a service, and access to the data layer on which they rely, are good examples of what the digital single market seeks to achieve"
The commissioner elaborates, "I already mentioned investment in infrastructure and research and innovation; I could also have mentioned the energy union, the digital single market, or the international dimension. A cleaner, greener transport system is clearly a key milestone on the way to an energy union. Intelligent transport systems, mobility as a service, and access to the data layer on which they rely, are good examples of what the digital single market seeks to achieve. And increased internationalisation would benefit the many European global leaders active in transport technology and solutions."
Lastly, the transport commissioner remains hopeful that cooperation with the European parliament will be fruitful, saying, "I’ve already had the pleasure to meet quite a few members of the transport and tourism committee. And I know we’ll need to work closely together if this vision is to become a reality.
I hope that in five years’ time we can all look back with satisfaction and pride at everything we managed to accomplish".
She concludes by highlighting the areas she hopes parliament and the council will cooperate on, responding, "I want to encourage parliamentarians in their efforts to find an agreement with the council on all the ongoing business inherited from the previous commission, on air passenger rights, on clean power for transport, on the reforms in railway regulation, on the single European sky, to name just some of the outstanding dossiers."
Violeta Bulc is European transport commissioner