Speech by Rimantas Sinkevičius, Minister of Transport and Communications, at the European Parliament, Transport and Tourism Committee

09 July 2013, Last updated at, 14:47 EEST
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Rimantas Sinkevičius, minister of Transport and Communications | author: European Parliament

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Honorable Members,

It is a proud moment, and a great pleasure, for me to take up your invitation to present to you the priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

Lithuanians are justly proud of what has been achieved in our country in the 23 years since we regained our independence. We know that the obligations placed upon us as we assume the Council Presidency are immense. But we are determined to show that we can carry out what is expected of us – efficiently and effectively. And we are grateful for the chance to show our partners in the EU who we are, and what we are capable of.

I welcome this early opportunity, not just to present our priorities, but to engage with you on the important issues that are preoccupying your Committee, and to establish the best possible basis for trust and genuine cooperation between the Council and the European Parliament in the transport and tourism sectors.

Such trust and cooperation are essential for the success of the European project – for three main reasons:

First, against the background of the economic crisis and the challenges this brings, the EU must act with resolve.

Second, as we get closer to the European elections now scheduled for May 2014, the legislative window is closing. The Lithuanian Presidency shares your anxiety to be able to hold up a compelling record of legislative achievement as you go the citizens of Europe to seek reconfirmation of your democratic mandate.

And third, the Lisbon Treaty confers on the European Parliament new powers and prerogatives to which we are all adjusting. As we do so, all the European institutions, while recognizing the new reality, need to ensure that their actions and deliberations are conducive to the overall good functioning of the European Union. Our citizens are watching, are forming their judgement, and are anxious for results. It is up to us to deliver.

The Lithuanian Presidency of the Council will, above all, be results-focused, and we shall be judged on our efficiency and effectiveness. That places a deep and effective engagement with the European Parliament at the heart of everything we do.

That is why I and my colleagues have prioritised getting to know you, getting to understand your priorities and your concerns, in our preparations for the Presidency.
Besides being enjoyable, these have been important learning opportunities for us – to build familiarity, to better understand the Parliament’s perspective, and to enable us to be ready to work with you from day one. I am clear that this level of dialogue must continue and deepen over the remainder of the year.

I want, too, to thank our predecessors in the Presidency. Leo Varadkar and his team have been excellent colleagues. They now have impressive achievements to their name, and of course set the bar very high for us.

If I had any doubts about what priorities to set for the Lithuanian Presidency in the transport sector, those doubts were put to rest after my meeting with you, Mr Chairman. You and your colleagues in this Committee represent a huge fund of knowledge and experience on transport matters in the EU. It was very useful to have your ideas and concerns. I hope that our free and frank exchanges will continue in the same positive spirit.

Among the achievements which Leo Varadkar set out when he addressed your Committee last month was the Regulation on the guidelines for the trans-European transport network and the Regulation on the Connecting Europe Facility. You and he have done a tremendous job in ensuring that these two proposals have come into effect so promptly.

In looking to achieve the main objective of our Presidency- a credible, growing and open Europe – we have chosen to focus on the development of new technologies; the environmentally-friendly infrastructure network and the common European transport area; on traffic and vehicle safety; and on interoperability between the transport networks of the EU and third countries.

Let me now expand on these:

We will seek a general approach to the directive on alternative fuel infrastructure, aimed at reducing dependence on oil, creating a cleaner environment, and increasing competitiveness of the European economy.

We will also seek a common approach on the regulation on the European Global Satellite Navigation System Agency so as to ensure security of satellite navigation systems in Europe.

The fourth railway transport package is of particular significance for land transport. Designed to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of the railway sector, it can make a huge contribution to the creation of a common EU transport area. So we will continue discussion on the technical part of the package, and will seek a general approach on the Railway Safety Directive. We also want to make progress on the European Railway Agency Regulation. That is why we are holding a seminar with the Community of European Railway Companies tonight to look at the prospects for transnational rail freight transport. Mr Zyle has kindly agreed to take part in the event, and I warmly encourage other members of the Committee to join us too.

As regards the Roadworthiness Package, there are good prospects for our working together and reaching an agreement on this package. I look forward to cooperating on this with your rapporteurs, Ms Sehnalova, Mr Kuhn and Ms Savisaar-Toomast. A Council position on all three proposals of the package has been formulated, and last week the Parliament adopted its own position. Agreement on proposals for periodic technical inspections of vehicles, road checks on commercial vehicles and vehicle registration documents would be an important step towards common safety standards in the European road transport system.

On aviation, we want to make progress in the Council on enhancing the rights of air passengers to information, assistance while travelling, and proper compensation in case of delays, cancellation or denied boarding. Our hope is to reach a common approach in the Council by December. We would be happy to start a discussion with the Parliament, although the main discussion will probably take place under the Greek Presidency.

We intend to start negotiations with you over the regulation on occurrence reporting in civil aviation. We look forward to working with Ms de Veyrac on that.

I will be inviting my Ministerial colleagues to adopt the Council decision on the SESAR Joint Undertaking.

Discussions will start in the Council on the Single European Sky II+ package. I also want to tell you that on 16 September I will be hosting in Vilnius an informal meeting of Ministers for Transport where I want to discuss the Single European Sky. Mr. Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission, will attend, I warmly invite you, Mr Chairman, and other members of the Committee to take part in this event as well.

In the field of maritime transport, we will seek a general Council approach on the regulation on multiannual funding of the European Maritime Safety Agency. We expect to achieve this at the October meeting of the Transport Council and to start negotiations with the European Parliament as soon as possible thereafter. With the help of Mr Taylor, this would allow us to reach agreement on the uninterrupted and proper performance of duties of the Agency by 2014.

We intend to start negotiations with you on the directive concerning marine equipment aimed at ensuring the proper functioning of the internal market for marine equipment, a high level of safety at sea, and prevention of marine pollution. We look forward to constructive work on this with the rapporteur and Committee Vice-President, Monsieur Riquet.

We will also seek progress establishing a framework on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports so as to enable seaports to manage increasing cargo flows more effectively.

As a contribution to Open Europe, and with a view to improved interaction between EU transport networks and third countries, Lithuania will host a meeting on 9 October of Eastern Partnership Transport Ministers. This will be an opportunity to discuss interconnection of EU infrastructure networks with those of six neighbouring countries. We will look to identify infrastructure projects providing the highest value added and requiring support by international financial institutions. The results of this meeting will be presented during the Eastern Partnership summit to be held in Vilnius in November.

Let me also present our priorities in the tourism sector. I have to admit that I am not responsible for the development of this sector in Lithuania; this falls within the competence of my colleague, the Minister of the Economy. However, I am happy to be able to speak on his behalf.

Tourism, of course, is a powerful economic force that contributes, in particular, to the creation of jobs and the promotion of entrepreneurship.

If growth in tourist flows is your measure, Lithuania is among Europe’s leading countries. So we will devote attention to the promotion of tourism opportunities and to increasing the flow of tourists coming to Europe.

In collaboration with the European Commission, Lithuania will be organising the 12th European Tourism Forum in Vilnius on 17 and 18 October. This will have as a title: “Tourism as a Factor of Economic Growth, Social Change and Welfare”. The Forum will look at potential means of cooperation, challenges and opportunities of the sector, EU financial assistance, and taxation of the tourism business. Tourism associations of the Baltic Sea Region will sign the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism. We hope that the discussions will give rise to new and useful ideas for ensuring that Europe remains the continent most visited by tourists.

We are delighted that you, Mr. Simpson, have agreed to take part in the Tourism Forum. Your participation will be an honor for us.

Our ambition over the next six months is to demonstrate our effectiveness in working with you in the Parliament, to engage actively and constructively in the search for balance and inclusive solutions. We are mindful that the history, and success, of European construction comes down to the intensification of informal dialogue and respect for the formal rules of engagement between Council and Parliament.

The Lithuanian Presidency will put all our effort into maintaining and building on these traditions of respect and cooperation. We look forward to working with you.

Thank you for your attention. I am happy now to take your questions.

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