EU should be wary of calls for a ‘regulatory pause’ in the transport sector

EU should be wary of calls for a ‘regulatory pause’ in the transport sector

EURACTIV — 2023-12-15

News from Brussels

In its manifesto for the forthcoming EU elections, the lobby organisation for car manufacturers ACEA says that to enable the transport sector to make a success of its green (and digital) transition, we need to press the pause button at regulatory level.

There is no doubt that the industry has taken notice of the European leaders who expressed this ‘wish’ last June. The proof is in the pudding that these little phrases have struck a chord, even though they risk derailing climate objectives and hurting consumers.

Car manufacturers are learning by example. Now that the EU has set in place rules that will electrify cars by 2035 – something that will benefit the environment and drivers’ wallets – they are forcefully rejecting any other obligation. They have clearly understood that there is a political opportunity to get a regulatory ‘peace of mind’.

While consumer organisations agree car makers are going through major change, this cannot justify a regulatory pause across the board for an entire sector. What’s more, can we really press pause on files that we’ve actually been waiting for for years?

With this narrative, car makers have repeatedly pushed back against ambitious new ‘Euro 7’ air pollutant standards. The result? A watered-down standard that flies in the face of scientific and economic evidence proving the need for ambitious legislation.

With this narrative, car makers are now pushing back against an initiative to regulate access to vehicle data. This regulatory initiative would guarantee more competition on what can be done with car data, benefitting consumers who will have more choice among service providers.

The file has been dragging on for 10 years and its importance for consumers has been demonstrated by a multitude of studies.

And let’s face it, car makers aren’t the only ones jumping on the ‘regulatory pause’ bandwagon.

Using the same narrative, an expected EU initiative on integrated ticketing – the so-called Multimodal Digital Mobility Services file – was blocked by incumbent rail operators and airlines.

The integration of ticketing and fares to facilitate multimodal and cross-border mobility, an absolute no brainer for anyone who has ever tried to buy a multimodal or cross-border ticket, was abandoned. We can only hope this is temporary.

‘We’ve had enough, now let the private players do the work’ seems to be the new motto, dug up straight from a 1980s lobbying playbook.

The incumbents in the transport sector – car manufacturers, rail operators and airlines – want to prolong the break, riding the regulatory pause wave created by politicians a few months ago.

While surfing this wave, they add another argumentative facet: ‘We need to prove that the market is failing’. Using the new fashionable jargon within the European Commission’s internal decision-making process, they know full well that this sledgehammer argument will delay everything.

Essentially, the EU is asked to apply the brakes on any new piece of legislation whenever someone cries (market) wolf, despite bullet-proof evidence on the benefits it may bring for consumers, the environment, our health, or freedom of choice.

Ironically, a ‘regulatory break’ and ‘proof’ of a failing market are not asked when it comes to receiving subsidies, state aid, permissive legislation and the like. On this, car makers are more than ready to work with policymakers or have policymakers work for them.

And what about consumers then? Well, they can wait.

For them, a ‘regulatory pause’ in the transport sector means frustration, lack of affordable and sustainable alternatives for their mobility needs. Or they may end up locked into new digital solutions without having any control or say over them.

This is not the way to go. So much more needs to be done to succeed in the green and digital transition.

That requires new initiatives, but also proposals which have been delayed for too long in the very name of a regulatory pause. Giving transport giants a break is playing firefighter arson on our market and planet.

This opinion piece does not necessarily reflect the views of ECG