Violeta Bulc: The current challenges that the transport sector faces present opportunities for women

European transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc on the new EU mobility package, gender equality in transport, and her own experience as one of Europe's few female entrepreneurs.

Violeta Bulc | Photo credit: Bea Uhart

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

13 Jun 2017

You have presented a large number of legislative proposals concerning road transport - why was it important to address this sector?

Our key motivation for the mobility package is on the one hand to establish clear rules under which different road transport businesses can be delivered to make sure that they are transparent, enforceable and that we have the same kind of logic throughout the entire European single market. 

On the other hand, we wish to shape up the road mode with the adequate digital solutions, mechanisms and tools in order to integrate it fully in a future multimodal solution.

The European transport sector faces major changes and an EU response is needed. Digitalisation, automation, alternative energy sources and multimodal mobility systems require a more comprehensive approach embracing a variety of policy areas at EU level. 

The legislative proposals will shape the road and mobility systems of the future, boost the competitiveness of the European transport sector, strengthen social fairness for workers and encourage environmentally-friendly practices.


You have said the EU has an opportunity to become a world leader in modern road transport - what concrete measures do you plan to implement in order to achieve this?

The proposals in the package have two core dimensions that will improve the functioning of the road internal market and simplify the rules both for truck drivers and businesses. The proposals clarify the rules on cabotage, social issues and posting of workers.

They also ensure that the rules are implementable and that fraud is eliminated from the single market. As a result, we will improve the functioning of the road internal market and create a genuine level playing field in road haulage. 

We further propose to stop letterbox companies and ensure that companies are established in the member states from where they manage their business. As we are creating fairer conditions for road haulage we need to ensure better conditions for truck drivers and prevent social dumping and nomadic drives.

Our reforms also present a response to the challenges of digital technologies and grasp the opportunities they bring. We foresee three elements: the digitalisation of documents, moving towards a single window approach in the European road mode and providing smart tachographs on board all commercial vehicles.


Road transport is responsible for a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions, so what legislation do you plan on introducing to make sure the sector does not stop Europe from achieving its climate goals?

The transport sector is indeed an important source of Europe's greenhouse gas emissions. Road transport alone is responsible for almost a fifth of our emissions. To meet our commitments agreed in Paris, accelerating the shift to clean and sustainable mobility is vital to improve the quality of life and health of our citizens.

We also aim to take concrete actions to decrease the socio-economic costs of transport. While transport connects people, allows business to develop and boosts the competitiveness of European businesses on a global scale, transport is also associated with congestion, road fatalities and serious injuries, as well as health risks from pollution and noise.

We propose a road charging-system that is friendly for the environment and EU citizens but above all pan- European. By adopting common road charging principles we wish to encourage better use of infrastructure and reward clean vehicles users.

Most notably, while road-charging will remain a national competence, we propose aligning passenger cars, vans and buses with European common principles. 

In addition, we wish to implement the 'user and polluter pays' principles. Road charges will therefore be based on distance as opposed to time, which was requested by the European Parliament. 

All of this will allow fairness and efficiency and eventually contribute to achieving our climate goals. how will the new proposals help tackle the issue of social dumping in transport?

Our proposals will ensure that social legislation is applied and enforced consistently across the EU. We wish for instance to address the phenomenon of 'nomadic drivers'. The new proposal gives drivers the possibility to return home on a regular basis - at least every three weeks. Drivers must also be provided adequate accommodation when taking weekly rest away from home. 

On the question of the posting of workers, drivers will continue to enjoy the positive effects of the social conditions from posting. By setting a three day threshold, we are clarifying and simplifying the posting directive to international services.

Finally, by fighting against 'letterbox companies', we will guarantee that transport undertakings are established in the member state where they have genuine activity. Together, we will put an end to social dumping practices on European roads.


Why is it important to encourage more women to work in the transport sector, and why do you believe the transport sector is so male-dominated?

Equality between women and men is one of the EU's founding values. The European Commission has indeed stressed the need to increase female labour market participation. Studies have shown that the most successful societies are those that maximise their intellectual human potential.

We need to fully include men and women in our progressive societies, like our Nordic neighbours do. The same applies for transport. If we want the sector to be a powerful enabler of jobs and growth, we need to bring greater gender balance in transport.

However, 22 per cent of workers in the transport sector in Europe are women, which is well below the figure for the overall economy at about 46 per cent. 

There is also a strong imbalance between types of employees inside each sector. In the rail sector, the share of women amounts to 60 per cent in human resources but only three per cent among train drivers.

Nevertheless, I believe that the current challenges and transformations that the sector faces present opportunities for women. With one third of its workforce about to retire and the profound transformations led by upcoming automation, both young women and young men should step in for the future of the sector. 

As Commissioner for transport what are you planning to do about this issue?

As a Commissioner, I raise the issue at any possible occasion and I invite all stakeholders to bring forward gender-balanced initiatives. In my cabinet, in our Directorate-General for mobility and transport and in our agencies, we have set up an inclusive and sustainable model with socially-balanced teams.

At the end of the year, we will deliver a platform for change with the aim of addressing gender equality in transport. The platform will bring together representative bodies of the transport industries, their trade unions, training institutes, media and NGOs that are willing to commit to increase the employability of women in the transport sector. They will be able to make concrete commitments in favour of gender equality and exchange good practices.

I also plan to raise awareness for instance by communicating on the benefits for companies to improve gender balance in their workforce.


The Commission's consultation document states that "promoting gender equality in transport requires a variety of measures including changing mentalities, improving working environments, raising awareness" - how do you plan on doing this? Is it possible to change mentalities in an industry that has been male-dominated for decades?

We can kill some stereotypes with good communication on the reality of the transport workplace of today, taking into account national specificities.

However, I agree that changing mentalities remains the hardest challenge as it involves reaching out to young children and their families. In the sector, we are considering developing educational toolkits for teachers in primary and secondary schools. But changing mentalities will take time and goes well beyond the transport sector. 


Did you receive any responses to the public consultation that surprised you both in a negative and positive manner?

I must say that the topic is quite consensual so the replies received were very supportive overall. Among the debated topics, targets are generally preferred to quotas. However, there is still low appetite for binding commitments at this stage.


Before getting into politics, you were an entrepreneur. How did you ensure better gender equality when running a business?

I was an entrepreneur for 14 years. For all my 14 years, my teams have always been gender-balanced and I really paid attention to stimulate my clients to go in this direction. 

Yet, one of the biggest untapped sources is entrepreneurial potential; for now women represent only 29 per cent of entrepreneurs. Also in 2015, only 12 per cent of executive positions among the EU's largest companies were held by women. 

Having more women in positions that shape policy and drive change in our societies will better address our needs. By removing the glass ceiling, the invisible barriers preventing women from reaching top level positions may produce more equality and efficiency gains.


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