The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is taking stock, ahead of the European elections, of EU transport, energy and digital policies and reiterates that the European Union is built on a daily basis through the contribution of civil society organisations.
Transport, energy and digital transformation in the run-up to the European elections were at the top of the agenda of the April meeting of the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN), where stakeholders from a wide range of social and economic organisations contributed with feedback from the national and European level.
Assessing the success and challenges from the perspective of civil society is essential, declared Pierre Jean Coulon, president of the TEN section.
This is why, on the eve of the European elections, we are organising a debate made up of three roundtables on topics which are dear to actors in civil society: the European Union is not only built through legislation, but it is shaped on a daily basis by the everyday work of civil society representatives, he added.
The panels included a fruitful discussion on sustainable transport, the fight against energy poverty, and the benefits and issues of the digital revolution for people with disabilities, consumers, farmers and the environment.
The first roundtable was moderated by TEN section vice-president Alberto Mazzola, who focused on the future of transport and sustainable growth, pointing out the importance of achieving an 80% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050 and underlining that decarbonisation required investments of 600 million per year.
All areas of transport were tackled, more specifically the maritime, road, rail and airline transport sectors. Isabelle Ryckbost, from the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO), indicated that ports needed 48 billion euro of investments in infrastructure in the coming ten years, while Matthias Maedge, representing the International Road Transport Union (IRU), highlighted that the taxi, bus and coach, and truck industry required a more diverse response than electric mobility and pointed to the dramatic shortage of drivers in the sector: 20% of positions remain unfilled.
Rail transport is on the right track, it can count on the most mature technology in terms of sustainability, as rails are almost completely electrified, emphasised Matteo Mussini of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER). So is aviation, which is among the best performing sectors in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, tapping into sustainable fuels and new fuel-efficient aircrafts and engines, argued Thomas Reynaert from Airlines for Europe (A4E).
The topic of energy poverty was touched upon in the following debate, chaired by Mr Coulon, who stressed the need for Europe to eradicate the "plague" of energy poverty, which currently affects between 60 and 120 million Europeans, by putting forward solutions for the people.
A number of initiatives are carried out locally to deal with the problem of energy insecurity. Patrice Coquereau, who works for the French electric grid operator ENEDIS, presented the efforts of the company to identify the invisible energy poor and so did Hélène‑Sophie Mesnage, representing the National Union of Community Centres for Social Action (UNCCAS), who advocated the work done to help households with problems linked to energy consumption.
Public service unions cooperate on energy poverty with organisations dealing with poverty, specified Jan Willem Goudriaan of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), while Peter Hilpold, from the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour (AK Europa), clarified that energy poverty was not the same as socio-economic poverty and thus deserved to be tackled differently with a wider set of measures.
TEN section vice-president Evangelia Kekeleki managed the final panel on digitalisation and its implications for different societal groups and made clear that it was all about everyday life, because the digital revolution had transformed everything in our lives.
Loredana Dicsi, a representative of the European Disability Forum (EDF), highlighted the benefits and challenges for people with disabilities, mentioning in particular the issue of accessibility. On the same page was Monique Goyens, from the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), who referred to the future of consumers and revealed that the most overlooked problem in the digital transformation was cybersecurity.
Pros and cons for agriculture were outlined by Daniel Azevedo of European farmers and European agri-cooperatives (COPA-COGECA), who praised digital economy and remote market options but also warned of the difficult access to technology. Sustainability from the ICT perspective was approached by Chiara Venturini, representing the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), who described how pervasive and fast connectivity was, bringing about outdated regulations and increasing vulnerability of groups in society.
Digital has to be available for all citizens, concluded Mr Coulon.
We need to be united in diversity. We can only make progress if all of civil society is represented. We need to all work together, pool our knowledge, share our concerns with one another and talk about the challenges of the future.
For further information on the work carried out by the EESC's TEN section, please consult our website.