Brussels abandons compulsory tenders for public transport

14 June 2006

Brussels abandons compulsory tenders for public transport

SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer, who acted as the European Parliament's Rapporteur for the European Commission's proposed measure regulating the organisation of public transport systems, described himself as "delighted" by the political agreement reached last Friday by the EU Council of Transport Ministers in relation to the question of tendering of public transport. "It's still too early to speak of an unmitigated success," Mr Meijer said, "but as things stand, the new proposal from the Commission, to which the Council was responding, goes a long way to meeting the wishes of the European Parliament, which were in turn formulated on the basis of advice given in my report on the original proposal."

Local and regional authorities will retain a high degree of autonomy, enabling them, should they wish to, to keep public transport under their own control. The proposed compulsory tendering for bus, train, tram and metro systems is to a large extent dropped, and the expectation is that only regional bus transport will remain partly subject to tender.

Erik Meijer"This is good news", said Erik Meijer. "I have never been a supporter of giving services over to the market, and I successfully defended this position in the European Parliament. The Commission is now making an exception for public transport from the usual internal market competition rules. That is a victory in itself."

According to Meijer this means that more space will be available for experiments with free public transport and special fares for particular groups such as old people, the unemployed or students. At the same time regional or local authorities will be able to invest in new tram systems, which would have been much more difficult in the face of compulsory tendering, because this would have meant that the costs of public transport would have been looked at in a one-sided manner.

For the Netherlands, it is unlikely that much will change, as the new European Regulation will not clash with current law, which was introduced in 2000 in anticipation of the original European Commission proposal and set up a system of compulsory tendering. This legislation goes a great deal further than the newly-agreed, revised Regulation in fact requires. Meijer counts on a new government being elected next year which will revise the system and do away with the obligation to tender.

Despite the apparent success, Erik Meijer warns against jumping the gun and is anxious to see the official text of the political agreement reached by the transport ministers. A meeting of the European Parliament Transport Committee which took place a few days after this agreement was reached made it clear that when the Parliament reconvenes after its summer recess and the text returns for further consideration, much work will remain to be done, as Christian Democrats and Liberals, who together form a majority of MEPs, revealed that they were not exactly happy with the accord, and specifically with the watering down of the requirements on tendering.

Influential German Christian Democrat Georg Jarzembowski said that "The parliament must put the teeth back into the Regulation when it comes back for its second reading, putting back what the Council of Ministers has removed." Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot, however, replying to this, said that the agreement represented a compromise between the market and "social Europe."

"For the first time the Commission is recognising that some economic services, such as public transport, are of general social importance," noted Erik Meijer, "and that member states therefore retain the right to subsidise these services without there being any question of unfair competition through financial support from the state. This is truly a first in this neoliberal never-never land."

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