COVID-19: EU STATES JOIN FORCES TO KEEP PRIORITY TRAFFIC MOVING

BRUSSELS (our correspondent):- The informal high-level videoconference of EU Transport Ministers, convened by the Croatian Presidency, saw a constructive and wide-ranging discussion on how best to ensure economic continuity, the smooth flow of essential goods – including food and medicine – the health and safety of transport workers, and their free movement across borders while focusing on containing the outbreak.

EU Transport Ministers together with the European Commission agreed today to work closely together to minimise traffic disruptions, especially for essential freight. The transport sector is being severely affected by a wide range of national measures to contain the pandemic.

The Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU, represented by the Minister for the Sea, Transport and Infrastructure, Oleg Butković concluded that an important first step was made today towards a coordinated approach and stressed the need to focus on containing the spread of the virus while work should continue in close cooperation among the Member States, the European Commission and the various stakeholders.

The Minister also stressed the importance of finding solutions for the financial obligations of the businesses and transport operators as it is our duty to keep the EU transport sector alive:

“There is a clear commitment to coordinate and work better together. The Member States need to continue to share national measures and also report on the most effective measures. It is important to find solutions for the financial obligations of the businesses and transport operators. We need to give companies the financial margins they need to survive the crucial period, while avoiding that one company’s solution becomes another company’s problem. We agreed it is important to keep the freight moving, also across borders in order to make sure that the essential goods and medical supplies reach our citizens. We have also heard what further action the Commission is planning to take, as a lot of measures is to be decided at EU level, in order to ensure support for all EU citizens and the EU economy. This week, Council preparatory bodies already dealt with first concrete proposal that was made last week – the slots allocation and as the Presidency we are committed to conclude it as soon as possible.”

The Commission indicated a clear list of actions in its intervention aimed at protecting the proper functioning of the single market. It includes the free movement of transport workers, ‘green corridors’ – priority lanes for freight transport, flexibility for rules on driving and rest times, and pre-notification of measures to the Commission. The support expressed by heads of state for the Guidelines on borders will facilitate measures ensuring that the flow of goods will continue in the EU.

Ministers also discussed how to alleviate the negative impact on the transport and tourism sectors. They agreed that responses to COVID-19 should not aggravate economic and social distress by cutting off much-needed transport links. It is imperative that we keep the economy going, and for this the transport sector is key.

The European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, said:

“It is time for concrete measures and strong coordination between Member States and we agreed to designate national contact points for enhanced coordination. I have asked that essential ‘Green corridors’ be established to preserve the free circulation of goods and people who need to cross borders. I have stressed the importance of protecting transport workers. I have offered all the Commission’s support in terms of the regulatory framework and financial instruments to help the transport industry, which has been hit hard in recent days, to recover. For example, we will be flexible so that no CEF beneficiary is penalised because of delays caused by the crisis. I very much appreciate the commitment of Transport Ministers shown today in applying the principle of solidarity.”

The Commission is committed to showing all the necessary flexibility in relaxing relevant requirements and called on Member States to do the same to reduce the strain on a sector in crisis, while enabling it to focus on its core tasks of delivering essential freight to the public. But the Commission also stressed that any Member State imposing restrictions on the transport of goods, transport workers and passengers should do so only for public health reasons. Any restrictions should also take into account the specificities of the transport mode in question.

It was widely acknowledged that the current situation calls for continued solidarity and strong cooperation among Member States, and that all actions at national level should be inspired by these principles.