EARILER this year the political outlook looked highly volatile in the wake of the Brexit referendum and the election of Mr Donald Trump as US president, while the outcome of national elections in the Netherlands in March and France in the summer far was far from certain. The hard-fought technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package faced crucial votes in July regarding the single safety certificate and in November on rail vehicle certification by the Railway Interoperability and Safety Committee (Risc).
Risc, which is made up of representatives of each EU member state, has the same voting rules as the European Council, which means that each representative’s vote is weighted according to national population, so votes from the largest member states - namely Britain, France, Germany and Italy - carry more weight than votes by representatives of smaller countries such as Estonia, Ireland, and Luxembourg. To adopt a measure, 55% of member states representing at least 65% of the EU population must vote in favour, while conversely a vote can be blocked by a small number of large member states.
As Mr Josef Doppelbauer, executive director of the EU Agency for Railways explains, the outcome of the Risc votes in July and November were looking far from certain. Doppelbauer expected Britain, which represents 12.8% of the EU population, to abstain due to Brexit, but an abstention counts as a negative vote, while the outcome of the vote by France representing 13% of the EU population was difficult to predict because of the election. A blocking minority could derail the implementation of the technical pillar.
“The July and November votes are most important,” Doppelbauer explains. “If they are not approved, we can’t run the one-stop shop, or implement safety certificates or vehicle authorisations. If we don’t manage this process properly we are on very thin ice.”
Doppelbauer quickly realised that action was needed to build support around the EU for the technical pillar. “We need to take people with us, otherwise it won’t work,” he says. So plans were drawn up for a road show to explain the benefits of the technical pillar for rail transport by creating a Single European Railway Area (Sera) with streamlined certification and approval of new trains.
“We wanted to meet each member state to get them to understand that the Fourth Railway Package is about the future of European railways,” Doppelbauer told IRJ. “We had three key themes: safe - rail transport should remain safe, connected - rail should connect Europe not divide it, and affordable as the Fourth Railway Package will reduce costs.”
The agency planned five regional events where several countries would be grouped together concluding with a final conference in Brussels on June 20. Each regional event followed a similar pattern with opening keynote addresses, presentations on the technical pillar and the one-stop shop, and ending with a discussion and voting on the topics by delegates. Each event had five or six panellists from the agency and the European Commission (EC), plus representatives of key railway associations such as the Community of Railways and Infrastructure Managers (CER) and the European Rail Industry Association (Unife). A total of 374 people took part in the events.
“We always had Risc members present plus politicians and senior railways managers,” Doppelbauer explains. “We asked Risc members who they were talking to before the votes and invited these people to take part as well.”
The first regional event was staged in Budapest on April 26. “We had all the southeastern EU member states including Greece present,” Doppelbauer says. “It was a very positive event. People said that it was ‘unique for an EU institution to come to us, present its case, listen to our views and take note of our concerns’.”
The second event was held in Helsinki on May 10 for Nordic and Baltic member states. “This was another major success,” Doppelbauer told IRJ. “It worked very well. One member would raise a concern, and another would echo it which then led to a discussion on a possible solution. We stopped the debate at 17.30 promptly so that discussion could continue over dinner. People in a more social environment tend to find better solutions.”
The third event in Malta on May 23 covered France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. “Everyone moaned about the location but it was the smallest and best event,” Doppelbauer says. “We only had 52 participants in Malta compared with an average of 80, but it was very efficient and we had a much more constructive discussion, and because Malta is an island nobody could escape.
“When we group countries together it is much more manageable. We used simultaneous translation so there were no barriers, and we also tried to use the linguistic skills of our staff. The host country helped to select a venue and entertainment for the evening. The band in Malta was fantastic and the singer was a competitor in the Eurovision Song Contest. It was great for team building, which is most important for the Fourth Railway Package. We need to build trust, and you can’t force it.”
Berlin was the venue for the fourth event on June 7 covering Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and the Czech Republic. “We had 130 participants which was slightly too large,” Doppelbauer explains. “We realised that we had had a language problem at the preparatory meetings which were conducted in English as it was clear that some people had not understood everything, so we conducted this event in German. We had a ‘grill party’ in Berlin, which was a very well-rehearsed session as lots of questions had been prepared. Nevertheless, it was a very constructive event.”
The final regional event took place in Amsterdam on June 16 for the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland. Britain was unable to attend because of the national election. “It was a very lively event,” Doppelbauer says. “The Dutch and Belgians brought up some very practical issues.”
A final EU-wide conference was staged in Brussels on June 20 and was attended by EC transport commissioner Mrs Violeta Bulc. “Bulc was very positive about rail in her speech and stressed the need for multimodality,” Doppelbauer says. “Rail doesn’t integrate well with other modes, so she is right.
“We had one panel on the future of rail, a round up from the regional conferences where we gave feed-back from all the sessions, and took up concrete points which had been made. We set out the pre-conditions so that we will be ready to implement the technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package by 2019, although I’m not sure that all member states will have transposed it into national law by June 16 2019.
“The round tour of Europe should have reduced the risks as we have created mutual understanding. Fighting fragmentation is our key task. It was an incredible and unexpected experience. There were a lot of emotional responses over dinner - music goes directly to the heart and always works”
The EU Agency for Railways’ road show broke new ground in terms of the EU attempting to explain its plans to member states. Whether what has been achieved by Doppelbauer and his team resonates further in Brussels remains to be seen, but it is clearly something which should be emulated by other EU agencies if they want to take people with them.
It might also be an approach that the agency uses again in the near future.
“Many people said we should repeat the exercise, so we plan to do it again in 2018-19 to see where there are any rough edges and how to fine tune things,” Doppelbauer says.