Multiannual financial framework and European expansion plan
On December 17, 2020, the institutions of the European Union (EU) definitively adopted the multiannual financial framework for 2021 to 2027 in the amount of around € 1.1 trillion at 2018 prices. The funding for transport from the Connecting Europe Facility is € 11.4 billion (plus an additional € 10 billion for the cohesion countries), € 81.4 billion (including € 5 billion from the structural plan) for the Horizon Europe research initiative and € 1.5 billion for military mobility. The core elements of the European Next Generation EU plan, which is intended to remedy the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, amounting to € 750 billion, were also decided. Within the framework of Next Generation EU, an expansion and resilience facility is being set up to provide financial support totaling € 312.5 billion to member states for reforms and investment between 2021 and 2026. To do this, member states must submit national development plans with projects to the European Commission for assessment. For the national expansion and resilience plan (Aufbau- und Resilienzplan; DARP) the selection of projects is based on the assumption, that the funds being allocated to Germany in the amount of about € 26 billion are being used for measures of the economic stimulus and future readiness package. Grants of € 500 million are planned for investments in digital signaling technology and € 227 million for the promotion of alternative drives in rail transport. Following the approval of the DARP by the European Commission and the Council of the EU in July 2021, pre-financing of € 2.3 billion can be paid out to Germany.
The European Green Deal
The European Green Deal is the European Commissionʼs road map for a sustainable, climate-oriented economy. As part of the European Green Deal, the Commission is setting the target of climate neutrality for Europe by 2050 (zero emissions). A key component in this regard is an European Climate Law, on which the EU institutions reached a political agreement on April 21, 2021. This also defines and increases the interim target for emissions reductions by 2030 – to at least 55%.
On July 14, 2021, the Commission presented a comprehensive package of legislation containing key proposals to achieve the new 55% target. This “Fit for 55” package concerns energy and transport policy in particular. It contains proposals for new EU emissions trading on road traffic and buildings, stricter CO₂ emissions requirements for newly registered passenger cars and light commercial vehicles (with the result that all new cars registered from 2035 must be emissions-free) and a CO₂ limiting tax. In addition, free emissions certificates and the kerosene tax exemption for air traffic are to be phased out.
European Year of Rail 2021
2021 has been declared the European Year of Rail by the European institutions. This is the first time that an European year has been dedicated to a specific sector and shows that the EU sees rail transport as a decisive component in achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal.
The themed year is intended to help to position rail as an environmentally friendly mode of transport and thus to achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal in the transport sector. The European Year of Rail will primarily build off the sector’s and its stakeholders’ communication measures. The journey of a special train through almost all European countries in September and October 2021 will be the highlight and a visible sign of the cross-border performance of the rail sector.
Trade and cooperation agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU
The United Kingdom and the EU agreed on a free trade agreement on December 24, 2020, which provisionally entered into force on January 1, 2021. The European Parliament also approved the agreement on April 27, 2021, meaning that the agreement finally entered into force on May 1, 2021. The agreement does not provide for customs duties or quotas for trade in goods between the EU and the United Kingdom and instead contains far-reaching regulations to guarantee fair competition. With regard to transport, the agreement provides for permanent networking in the areas of air, road and maritime transport, although market access is not on the same level as the domestic market. Rail traffic through the Channel Tunnel is secured until September 2021 in accordance with the EU Emergency Regulation, which has already been passed. During this time, France and the United Kingdom are to conclude a cross-border agreement in order to secure tunnel traffic in the long term. As negotiations for a cross-border agreement continue, the European Commission has presented a proposal to extend the EU Emergency Regulation until March 2022.
Agreement on the revision of the European Passenger Rights Regulation
Following the agreement between the Council and Parliament on October 1, 2020, and the subsequent formal acceptance, the revised version of the European Passenger Rights Regulation entered into force on June 7, 2021, and will apply as of June 7, 2023. The new version provides, that the currently applicable delay compensation levels remain unchanged (25% of the fare after one hour delay, 50% after two hours). In future, in the event of exceptional circumstances, a train operating company (TOC) will be able to release itself from the obligation to pay compensation for delays. The strict obligation to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities and passengers with limited mobility is generally limited to staffed stations. Four years after the regulation comes in to force, TOCs will also have to provide a mandatory number of bicycle stands when procuring new or substantially modernizing trails.