Fleet News

New man at helm for EU transport

IN this week's Fleet News Europe column, we feature a profile of Jacques Barrot (pictured above), who has been given responsibility for transport in the new European Commission.

Jacques Barrot (pictured) is a close political ally of the French president Jacques Chirac and can be expected to take a tough line in defending French interests when Brussels draws up transport policy in the next five years.

Barrot, who has held a number of French ministerial posts, most recently as labour minister, was the first chairman of France's UMP party, which was created in 2002 to support Chirac's candidature in the second round of the French presidential elections.

Although he recently became the EU commissioner for regional policy, Barrot does not have extensive experience in Europe. He speaks no foreign languages and will be seen in Brussels more as an extension of Chirac's influence than as a reformist.

This means, among other things, that he is likely to oppose EU moves begun by the previous transport commissioner, Loyola de Palacio, that would effectively allow lorries to be driven at night and on Sundays, nor will he support Brussels-proposed measures to harmonise road taxes, speed limits and driving licences.

Issues like the harmonisation of vehicle registrations, road taxes, insurance and the block exemption covering new car purchasing will be the formal responsibility of the new commissioners for taxation, the internal market and competition but it would be surprising if M Barrot did not have a strong input into any policy decisions taken by the commission, given their effect on transport.

As a rule, France tenaciously safeguards its right to take its own decisions in these and other areas, which is one of the reasons EU transport policy on road transport has been slow to evolve in recent years. Under Barrot's tutelage, it is difficult to see more rapid progress being made. Indeed, although he has said nothing of his views on transport since commission president-designate José Manuel Barroso assigned him the portfolio last week, it does not look as if he will rush to make any changes in the broad guidelines set out by the outgoing commissioner.

Gilles Gantelet, commission transport spokesman, says he believes 'there will be some changes in presentation, because the two personalities are so different, but on the substance the differences will not be that important'.

De Palacio held strong opinions and used the media to make them known. By contrast, Barrot prefers a less direct approach though 'once he is convinced of something he will go at it'.

Gantelet expects the new transport supremo to continue broadly de Palacio's attempts to balance the different forms of transport and develop new modes such as river transport, inter-modality and combined transports and to try and introduce an infrastructure pricing system.

However, if he is confirmed in his job by the European Parliament next month, Barrot will be able to focus more closely on transport than his predecessor, because her energy portfolio is being stripped from his job and handed to a Hungarian commissioner, Laszlo Kovacs.

He will, for instance, be responsible for overseeing major transport infrastructure projects, notably the Trans-European Networks, where the aim is at least partly to reduce the dominance of road over other forms of transport.

But while many French politicians believe France should have a greater share in these major EU infrastructure transport projects, their scale and management have already been laid down in law and he will find it next to impossible to re-write them.

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