The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) urges the Commission to be more rigorous in facilitating consumers' access to new, cleaner and affordable forms of mobility, and to introduce stronger financial support for public transport. The opinion on "Achieving low emission targets", which was adopted during last week's plenary session, discussed the Commission's proposal on how to effectively reduce gas emissions produced by road transport.
Leadership in new technologies has to be achieved
Even though the transport sector plays an important role in the EU economy by employing more than 11 million people and generating around 5% of EU GDP, it remains one of the greatest contributors to Europe's greenhouse gas emissions and also adds to severe air pollution in urban areas.
Our well-being depends quite significantly on this industry and this is the reason why we should do everything to maintain this strong position in manufacturing and service provision, says the rapporteur, Ulrich Samm, adding, however, that "this position must be used to accelerate the EU economy's clean energy transition, with the goal to achieve leadership in new technologies to be set as well".
The European automotive industry produces about 14 million new cars every year. However, only about 5% of the total fleet of 253 million cars in the EU is replaced by the newly launched cars. It is estimated that even with this rate of replacement alone, CO2 emissions will be reduced by more than 30% by 2030 compared with 2005. Nevertheless, the EESC believes that more initiatives could be introduced that would accelerate the renewal rate.
According to Mr Samm, all transport systems have limits, in particular trucks, and it is not easy to replace them by other means.
Therefore, car renewal is really improving the situation – the air in cities is getting cleaner every year due to the renewal rate but the process is too slow.
The EESC also points out that in addition to its focus on new technologies such as electric cars, the Commission should consider the large potential for improvements in the existing fleet.
A more flexible approach to technological progress is recommended
The EESC draws attention to the general, technology-neutral approach set by the Commission, which according to the rapporteur is not followed fully by the proposed initiatives.
Depending on technological progress, it is far from sure that our future mobility will be all electric, says Mr Samm, adding that other propulsion technologies also provide great potential for clean mobility.
The rapporteur notes that such a breakthrough could happen not only in battery-powered electric vehicles, but also in the area of fuels.
For example, Sweden or Finland use biofuels, which are fossil-free and climate-friendly but these fuels are not supported enough by the Commission.
The EESC therefore recommends a more flexible approach rather than, for example, fixed emission thresholds or procurement targets.
In addition, the EESC asks the Commission to make a clear distinction between climate protection and improved local air quality. Mr Samm points out that certain types of fuels may help to improve air quality but they are not beneficial to the climate and vice versa.
Citizens should be at the heart of change
The EESC welcomes the initiatives intended to restore consumer confidence in the automotive industry and the regulatory system by means of realistic emission standards and new test procedures that will ensure effective compliance with the rules.
However, the EESC urges the Commission to take more rigorous action in facilitating consumers' access to new, cleaner and affordable forms of mobility and to make sure that the benefits of new mobility services are equally available to all Member States.
It would be unacceptable if, for example, older diesel cars were banned in some Member States and then sold in others that have weaker economies, emphasises Mr Samm.
The rapporteur adds that additional costs for consumers are a matter of concern and the proposed funding instruments may not be sufficient. "Politicians should not push for changes which are ultimately very expensive for consumers; the Commission should therefore put more effort into looking into the cost because additional costs, which consumers would have to pay, have to be covered somehow."
Financial support is also needed for public transport. In the EESC's opinion, lack of financing is the main obstacle to the modernisation of public transport.
It is essential to convince more citizens to use this transport by making it more attractive, argues Mr Samm.
The EU has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 23% between 1990 and 2016. However, the success has been achieved in many sectors other than transport. In order to tackle problems specifically linked to road transport, the Commission introduced the "Europe on the Move" initiative, which is delivered in three packages and aims for a fundamental modernisation of European mobility and transport. The EESC opinion on "Achieving low emission targets" deals with the second package of initiatives.