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On 8 December 2020, an informal video conference of EU Ministers of Transport was held under the auspices of the German EU Council Presidency. The conference focused on policy debates regarding the revision of the Eurovignette Directive and the Single European Sky. Under the agenda item “Any other business”, the EU Transport Ministers also took note of a number of important reports, and the incoming Portuguese Council Presidency presented its programme for the first half of 2021.

At the beginning, the ministers conducted a debate on the revision of the Eurovignette Directive. The Council Presidency had submitted a background paper regarding this matter, which primarily addressed two issues:

  • the possibility for Member States to exempt, under certain conditions, vehicles having a technically permissible maximum laden mass exceeding 3.5 tonnes and less than 7.5 tonnes from the obligation to pay tolls or user charges.
  • The question whether the Member States’ possibility to apply a mark-up to the infrastructure charge levied on specific road sections that are regularly congested should require the approval of all Member States affected (which are part of the corridor concerned and neighbouring the section of the corridor to which a mark-up is applied).

Summarizing the outcome of the debate on the revision of the Eurovignette Directive, the Presidency stated that a clear majority of the Member States supported the compromise proposals of the German Council Presidency. For this reason, on 10 December 2020, the Council Presidency submitted a draft trilogue negotiating mandate to be adopted at the meeting of the Council of Permanent Representatives on 18 December 2020. The aim is to strengthen the user pays principle and take better account of environmental and climate-related aspects without restricting the necessary national scope for action. This way, we will be able to prepare the relevant groundwork for more climate friendliness in road transport while at the same time providing important impetus to innovate and modernize vehicles.

During a policy debate, the ministers exchanged views and opinions on the proposals submitted by the European Commission on the Single European Sky (SES) in September 2020. To structure the debate, the Council Presidency had prepared a discussion paper for the ministers. The debate showed that, in principle, the objectives of the revision of the existing legal framework are widely supported. At the same time, it became clear, however, that there was still a need for clarification regarding some aspects of the European Commission's proposals for amendment. Thus, the policy debate provided important indications for the further deliberations on the legislative proposals with regard to the Single European Sky, which will be continued under the Portuguese Council Presidency.

Under the agenda item “Any other business”, the ministers took note of several reports on different issues: the Council Presidency provided information on the deliberations regarding the New Mobility Approach, which have provided an impetus for a discussion on a modern, climate-friendly and future-proof transport policy in Europe. The discussion on the New Mobility Approach thus complemented the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy presented by the European Commission on 9 December.

Moreover, the Council Presidency provided information on the current state of various projects in rail transport, and the Luxembourg delegation underlined its request for investments to be made in the upgrading of the European rail network.

The Finnish delegation reported on the high-level meeting on connected and autonomous driving, which had been held in Helsinki on 7 October 2020.

The Polish delegation informed the other participants about a joint declaration by the Visegrád group on the forthcoming revision of the trans-European transport network (TEN-T).

With regard to aviation, the Council Presidency informed the ministers about the discussions on the impact of COVID-19 on air passenger rights, and the Austrian delegation, together with Belgium, Denmark, Italy, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal, presented a joint declaration (“COVID-19 Recovery: Towards Socially Responsible Connectivity”), calling upon the European Commission and all stakeholders to work towards a socially responsible recovery of the aviation industry.

In addition, the European Commission reported on the current state of the exchange platform for passenger locator cards of air passengers, which supports Member States in assessing the risks emanating from arriving passengers and facilitates contact tracing in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission also asked the Member States to participate in EASA’s pilot project.

Moreover, the Commission reported on the crew change problems encountered by the shipping sector as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By way of conclusion, the incoming Portuguese Presidency presented its work programme for the first half of 2021.