Fleet News

EU treaty: what's in store for UK fleets?

Denis MacShane, Minister for Europe, explains what the proposed Constitutional Treaty for the EU means for the transport industry.

las, I am old enough to remember the old Europe. As a student, I hitch-hiked with friends through the Europe before the European Union existed in its current form, and before the UK had joined the then-EEC.

I remember above all the queues. The queues to get a visa stamped. The queues at frontiers for customs clearance. Listening to the complaints of kindly lorry drivers about how difficult it was to do business in Europe.

Now, with 450 million consumers and free movement of people, goods and services constituting the largest area of international free trade in the world, the European Union offers huge possibilities for transport businesses looking to increase and expand their revenue streams, share knowledge and recruit the most skilled employees.

As the EU grows, the possibilities continue to grow with it. With the anniversary of last year's historic expansion of the EU taking place at the beginning of May, now is a perfect moment to examine what the EU has delivered for the transport industry - and how the proposed EU Constitutional Treaty will enhance these benefits in the future.

It's worth taking stock of where we've already benefited so far.

Europe by land, sea and air: let's start with the air industry. Thirty years ago, flying to European destinations was out of the question for me - too expensive and the planes only flew where the state-run companies wanted them to.

Today, in place of an over-regulated industry riddled with national protectionism, we now have a single market where choices of routes and carriers are constantly increasing.

Competition has increased, and we've seen new budget routes to Budapest, Tallinn and Prague developing from all over the country. In the last 10 years, the price of air travel to other EU countries has halved. And we're collaborating more and more with our European neighbours - such as with France on the Airbus 380 - than ever before.

EU laws have also brought about greater flexibility on the road. The liberalisation of transport for hauliers and coach passenger services has meant greater freedom to travel and trade within the single market. And as for rail, greater liberalisation has meant that more people and goods are travelling by rail than ever before.

The single market will need to carry on adapting to the new challenges of a globalised economy to make sure it realises its full potential to help raise EU productivity and growth.

It will also need to adapt to the diverse needs of companies in 25 member states. This is one reason the leaders of all the EU countries agreed a Treaty to establish a Constitution for Europe in June 2004.

Here are the facts. When we first looked at joining the EU, it had six members. It now has 25. This is a testament to the EU's success. But it is also means we need to modernise the way we do business in the EU. We need to ensure that its processes, designed for a small club of six, are made fit for an organisation that now spans the continent.

The new treaty will do this: it will make an EU of 25 more efficient, effective and open - while respecting the different needs of each member state.

The EU Constitution enshrines and builds on the principle of 'subsidiarity' and 'proportionality' - the ideas that laws should be made at the level of government closest to individual citizens and businesses as possible, and only to the extent necessary to achieve their aims.

This will ensure that the EU only acts where it clearly adds value to what can be done nationally or locally. For the first time, the EU Constitution will give national parliaments a direct role in deciding whether they think draft EU laws are necessary to deal with the issue at Union level and are proportionate.

This means that parliament, government and the transport industry can work together even more effectively for European laws - such as those on aviation safety standards and vehicle emissions - that work in our best interests.

To make this mechanism work as it should, Government needs to have clear channels of communication with the transport industry.

That is why departments across Whitehall have already improved the way they consult with industry while policies are being drawn up.

One example is the way the departments of trade, transport and the environment have been collaborating with the UK automotive industry via VIPER, a forum which brings industry representatives together with policy-makers to ensure they are aware of any potential issues with new legislation.

And we welcome the European Commission's announcement of Cars21, a forum which will extend these communication channels to a European level.

The EU has delivered real benefits for everyone in the transport industry and their customers. The new EU Constitutional Treaty will enshrine and build on those benefits and help us build a European economy in which the entire industry can look forward to the future with confidence.

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