The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has joined forces with the European Commission to state that the active involvement of European civil society organisations can help shape the green and digital transformation of the EU transport system.
The future of European Union transport must be sustainable, social and smart: this is the challenge facing a sector which has undergone profound changes in recent years on top of having been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the plenary debate on the Commission’s new transport strategy held on 28 April, EESC president, Christa Schweng pointed out that Europe needs a vision for a post COVID-19 Europe; in transport, that vision would comprise sustainable, smart and resilient mobility. “This push towards a twin green and digital transition in transport comes at a time when the entire sector is still reeling from the impact of the pandemic. We all know that travel and mobility are among the sectors which have suffered most as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, the EESC calls for urgent measures to support this sector and help it survive this crisis,” she said.
On the same wavelength was Adina Vălean, European Commissioner for Transport, who stressed that the pandemic has not changed the Commission’s overall vision of transport: that vision is firmly anchored in the EU Green Deal and based on the pillars of decarbonisation and digitalisation. “The transition to a greener, smarter and more resilient mobility system must leave no one behind – no region, no social group, no person with reduced mobility, no rural communities. Mobility must be available and affordable for all. Transport must continue to offer good social conditions and provide attractive jobs, while at the same time remaining competitive and responding to the challenges of digitalisation” she said.
EU transport is changing
Transport and mobility are crucial for Europe’s economy and competitiveness. The transport industry directly employs more than 11 million people and represents approximately 5% of the EU gross domestic product. Today, transport accounts for around a quarter of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions and, to achieve the climate neutrality envisaged in the European Green Deal, will have to cut its CO2 emissions by 90% by 2050 (55% by 2030).
Even before the pandemic, this sector was undergoing a number of profound technological, economic and social transformations challenging its traditional features. Digitalisation and automation have been among the main megatrends. A huge economic effort will be needed to make the necessary adjustments to physical and digital infrastructure (5G) and this will bring about radical changes in the nature of work and demand for skills.
The EESC opinion: focus on single market and transport workers
The EESC supports the general approach of aligning the Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy with the European Green Deal objectives. However, in the opinion drafted by Stefan Back and Tanja Buzek and adopted on 27 April 2021, it questions whether the approach strikes the right balance between technical and transport policy measures.
Many of the actions proposed with respect to sustainability and digitalisation have wide-ranging effects on the single market and transport workers. Unfortunately, the strategy does not pay enough attention to these aspects and this could undermine its successful implementation. In addition, a sustainable and digital transformation of EU transport will only be possible if the sector as a whole and the EU’s related industrial base are made more competitive.
Needless to say, the pandemic has exacerbated the situation of thousands of transport workers across Europe. They are faced with precarious contracts, highlighting the fact that, over the past decades, single market-centred transport policies have failed to stop the decline in working conditions. To avoid harm to transport workers, the Committee considers that a socially sustainable transport system is urgently needed, complemented by a crisis contingency plan.
During the debate, Baiba Miltoviča, President of the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN), flagged up the fact that the strategy tackles both the benefits and the costs of mobility for society. Mr Back stressed the need to keep the strategy focused on the single market in the area of transport, and Ms Buzek was pleased to see that the strategy acknowledged the key role played by transport workers but called for more specific actions, such as a social taskforce.
Concluding the meeting, Ms Schweng said that “The EESC stands ready to contribute to the recovery and reshaping of European transport and mobility. Only together will we achieve a shift towards sustainable, smart and resilient mobility that is also just.”