Greetings and welcome to the EURACTIV transport newsletter! Below you’ll find the latest roundup of mobility news from across Europe. Want to suggest a story?
“We have made Italy.
Now we must make Italians.” So goes the (roughly translated) quote from the Italian statesman Massimo d’Azeglio, reflecting on the fragile unification of a nation deeply tied to regional identities. Asking a population to accept a new dimension to their identity is a complex, delicate task.
It requires people to perceive themselves in a new way, to broaden their understanding of their existence. And while Italian unity may be considered a remarkable success (north – south agitation notwithstanding), European unity, in so far as the EU is concerned, is less so. The Tricolore may stir the heart, but a ring of stars on a blue background leaves many cold.
Being an EU citizen was seen as an affront to national identity for many Brits, who opted to quit the bloc outright. In Poland, the same mental leap towards being a European is being resisted (at least by elected leaders – citizens seem more comfortable with the dual identity). The reasons for the lack of embrace are easy to see – language barriers, a pervasive “us vs them” mindset in national politics, difficulty in identifying with those whose culture diverges from our own, a perception of Brussels as distant and dismissive…
So, over half a century into this grand experiment, the question remains: how do we create Europeans? For a Commission who has made it a priority to connect with the European on the street (you can make your own judgement as to how this is going), the answer seems to lie with young people. Head of the Commission Ursula Von der Leyen announced during her State of the Union address that 2022 will be the “European Year of Youth”.
As part of this, the Commission will give 60,000 young people free interrail passes through the “DiscoverEU” portal, allowing them to travel on railways across the bloc for 30 days next year. To get a free pass, applicants must be between 18 and 20 years of age. Applications open today (12 October) and close on 26 October at noon.
“In the spirit of the Commission designating 2022 the European Year of Youth, DiscoverEU is back, bigger than ever, with new opportunities for young people to take a train, broaden their horizons, extend their learning, enrich their experiences and meet fellow Europeans while travelling by rail as of March 2022,” said EU Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel. Will free train travel across the continent foster a generation of young people who see that star-flecked blue flag as their own? It’s overly simplistic to say yes – but it’s as worthy an attempt to create Europeans as anything else.
Is the capital of Germany about to ban cars?
This headline might evoke Betteridge’s law, but there’s a chance this one could break the rule. A citizen’s initiative to ban private cars from central Berlin has attracted over 50,000 signatures, setting it on the way to potentially becoming law. Under direct democracy rules, the petition must now attain 170,000 signatures, after which it can be put to a public vote.
If successful, it would create the largest car-free urban area in the world. The group behind the petition, Berlin Autofrei, said the move to ban cars is partly for climate reasons, and partly because cars take up too much space and are inherently dangerous to people, the Guardian reports. Under the proposal, tradespeople, those with mobility needs, and emergency vehicles would be permitted to drive.
Other Berliners would be allowed 12 rented car journeys a year, which would allow for those times when a vehicle would come in handy, such as moving furniture. While the outcome is far from certain, it seems that even the car industry is recognising that the days of vehicles crowding out others on the roads may be coming to a close. “In overcrowded urban centres, the car – including the emission-free e-car – will only be accepted in the future if the bike has enough space in the mobility mix,” Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen, recently said.
Connecting Europe express comes to a stop
After 36 days of travelling, the Connecting Europe Express pulled into Paris, its final destination, last Thursday. One of the flagship promotional events of the European Year of Rail, the train made more than 120 stops across 26 countries to highlight the benefits of travelling by rail. However, the train also showed that further investment is needed for cross-border connections.
“The Connecting Europe Express has achieved two targets today. Not only has it reached its final destination in Paris but, more importantly, it has highlighted the challenges in cross-border train services,” said Andreas Mattha, the CEO of Austrian Federal Railways. “If another important target, the Green Deal, is to be a success, it must become as easy to drive a train through Europe as it is to drive a truck,” he said.
To learn more about challenges facing the rail sector and what the future of train travel may look like, watch “Over a Coffee” with CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola at the link below.
In this Over a Coffee, Alberto Mazzola, executive director of CER, speaks about the industry’s emergence from the pandemic, efforts to promote train travel as part of the European Year of Rail, the need for infrastructure upgrades to make rail more competitive, and what the future of train travel in Europe might look like.
The European Commission’s plan to introduce a separate carbon market for road transport and the building sector, alongside the EU’s existing Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), was widely criticised by EU environment ministers at their meeting last week.
Despite coming a long way in becoming more energy independent, the Baltics still heavily rely on imported crude oil for their military and civil fuel demand.
This could prove to be a challenge in the event of a regional crisis as seaborne oil shipments might face disruptions, argue Lukas Trakimavicius and Christophe Nave of the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence.
Upcoming event: Battery-powered future – how can the EU ensure electric vehicles drive the green transport revolution?
Batteries are key to the EU’s transition to a climate neutral economy, given the role they play in the green transport revolution and the storage of renewable energy.
Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss how the EU can lead battery innovation, and ensure that e-transport plays its role on the road to climate neutrality in 2050.
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