The Coronavirus outbreak continues to impact us all, not only in terms of citizens’ health, but also in terms of economic survival.
Since the beginning of the crisis, it has been obvious that transport and tourism are among the most affected sectors of the European economy.
And, as country after country took measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, it has become clear that transport is the backbone of the European and global economy.
Let us not forget the very urgent measures taken by the European Commission and approved by the European Parliament that are addressing the transport difficulties caused by the Coronavirus outbreak.
We approved the EU law allowing European airlines to keep their airport slots, even when flights are cancelled, as we wanted to prevent empty or half-empty flights from flying, to protect the environment and to reduce pressure on the aviation sector during this difficult time.
“As country after country took measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, it has become clear that transport is the backbone of the European and global economy”
We also agreed on extending the application period of this temporary rule to 24 October 2020, sending air carriers a reassuring signal.
Small airlines are particularly under pressure and it is time to think about assisting them further. Airports and small businesses dependent on aviation, and the transport and tourism industry as a whole, are also in need of measures to help reduce the burden caused by the crisis.
This situation also requires urgent proposals for road and maritime transport. We need to make sure that goods, especially essential ones such as food and medical supplies, circulate freely and are available to all our citizens.
Our response has ranged from approving ‘Green Lanes’ on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) to other exceptional measures in transport regarding the inability to comply with EU legislation, such as difficulties to renew certain licenses or certificates for professional carriers.
Besides these temporary solutions, transport needs financial aid programmes, the easing of loan and mortgage repayment terms from financial institutions, and support programmes for temporarily unemployed road transport workers.
The signals from the transport industry are not encouraging. The International Road Transport Union (IRU) estimates a decline in global road transport activity of up to 20 percent in 2020, due to the decline of intercontinental container shipments, while passenger transport companies reported an activity decrease of at least 90 percent.
In this context, the measures taken by the European Commission, such as the revised State Aid rules, the €37bn Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative to provide liquidity to small businesses, or the new SURE initiative (Support mitigating Unemployment Risks in Emergency) helping to preserve jobs and support families, are all welcome steps.
“Not only does the road transport sector have to deal with the heavy disruption caused by the Coronavirus crisis, but it now has to start preparing to adapt to new regulations at the same time. This is unacceptable in my opinion”
Until the Coronavirus crisis is over, no one can know precisely what the economic consequences of this situation will be.
Nonetheless, the burden on transport companies, be it road, air, maritime or rail will be enormous. It means that we need to keep on open eye on the day-to-day developments and act fast.
Other than that, what can we do to support the transport sector? We should not change the rules in times of pandemics. I know for certain that changing the rules is the last thing that road transport needs.
But unfortunately, this is precisely what has happened. The European Council recently adopted, by means of a written procedure, its position at second reading on the Mobility Package. Within a couple of months, these three legal acts will have to be adopted by the European Parliament.
In my opinion, the Council has just put an additional burden on the transport industry. Not only does the road transport sector have to deal with the heavy disruption caused by the Coronavirus crisis, but it now has to start preparing to adapt to new regulations at the same time.
This is unacceptable in my opinion. I will do my best to change those provisions that create serious inequalities among countries. I have several amendments already written and I will fight for them.
I am more than sure that what the Council will send to the European Parliament will not be the final version of the Mobility Package.