Ladies and gentlemen, good morning,
Many feel that Inland water transport is one of the unsung heroes of the EU transport network. It has an important potential to contribute to our climate objectives, but often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. So it is a real pleasure to address you today on this topic and I thank Minister Scheuer for inviting me.
[Coronavirus impact & RRF]
With many EU Members States in the midst of a second wave of various lockdown measures, the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt for some time to come by all of us. In addition to the human and social costs, economies and public finances are under considerable strain.
Inland navigation has not been spared. The loss in turnover due to the pandemic has been estimated at between €2.2 and €4.4 billion for the sector. This comes from a 90% reduction in passenger transport and a 25-30% reduction in freight transport in the first part of the year.
I know that many of you are looking to the Commission to reinforce its support for the sector, and I’m happy to confirm that we are doing just that. First and foremost, since the beginning of the pandemic, we have declared transport workers essential to our economy, requesting Member States that they are protected in doing their jobs, and are not required to observe quarantine when travelling for work. We keep recalling this, as without a smooth functioning of our supply chains, our economy will come to a halt.
We are also working to kick-start the European economic recovery. The unprecedented financial package we presented in May included a proposal of €750 billion for a new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU. Its Recovery and Resilience Facility, with a budget of over €500 billion, can benefit all sectors of the EU economy. I understand some Member States, in the context of setting up their recovery and resilience plans, are considering support for inland waterways-related investments. This is very welcome, and I can only encourage others, who have the benefit of an inland waterway system, to consider similar support. This is not only in their economic, but also in their environmental interest.
The challenge is however not only to recover, but to take the sector towards more sustainability and increased digitalisation. We need to “build back better”. In doing this, we will also make inland navigation more resilient to future shocks.
[EGD & Strategy]
As one of the most CO2-efficient forms of transport, we need to unlock more of its untapped potential – of which there is plenty! Today’s share of inland waterways in freight movement across the EU stands just above 6% percent.
The European Green Deal calls for the shifting of a substantial part of 75% of EU freight currently carried by road to inland navigation and rail. It also calls for measures to increase the capacity of inland navigation from 2021. So we need decisive action if we are to deliver on these objectives.
Over 75% of inland navigation in the EU crosses national borders, so coordination is needed to increase capacity, to make the sector fit for the future, and to help it play a larger role in the EU’s Single Market.
Over the years, different rules have been developed for various international basins. EU action will result in fewer barriers, better cross-border traffic, and wider EU digital and environmental harmonisation. This will then clear the way for inland navigation to claim a larger share of travelling individuals and goods.
Our new Strategy on Sustainable and Smart Mobility, which I will present in a few weeks, will explain how we plan to achieve this.
Sustainability and digitalisation – the twin focus of our Mobility Strategy, will underpin our new ‘Naiades’ programme, the Inland Navigation Action Plan for 2021-2027, aligned to the new multi-annual financial framework. This will build on the recommendations of the Naiades Expert group, from December 2019.
So, what are our plans for the inland waterways sector as we look ahead?
Moving more people and goods by inland waterways requires, first and foremost, infrastructure that is fit for the future, and that better integrates this transport mode with others. Increased digitalisation will also facilitate multimodality, and efficient use of different modes to get goods to where they are needed. Infrastructure must also be sustainable, adapted to climate change, and avoid damages to the environment. With these objectives in mind, we will look to close missing links in inland multimodal terminals, and also at how data sharing across modes can be.
With adequate infrastructure in place, the modal share of inland waterways transport will increase. This will be good news for your sector, but also more broadly: the modal shift will cut congestion and pollution, provide a safer, more reliable transport option, create quality jobs, and contribute to the construction of a more sustainable transport system as a whole.
The second strand of the action plan will address a gradual shift towards zero-emission vessels, through a coordinated transport and energy policy that pools resources together. This will require action not only on the side of vessels, but also on shore. I believe inland ports can become energy hubs for alternative fuels, to power tomorrow’s vessels with clean alternatives. They will also have a key role to play in greening city logistics.
Investment in infrastructure and new fleets will be needed both from public and private funds. Especially in relation to the latter, I look forward to hearing from you how we can help the many SMEs active in the sector access financial support for green investments. Our new rules regarding taxonomy will be a helpful tool to classify those. We will also be looking into ensuring shippers and consumers have a good knowledge of the carbon footprint of various transport and logistics options.
The transition towards zero-emission vessels and decarbonisation of the fleet must undermine neither competitiveness, nor safety. So we will be looking at how our legal framework can be adapted to new vessel technologies coming on the market, for a quick and safe deployment. We have experience already with test cases of hydrogen-powered ships in Germany. We need to see if approvals under the current rules work at the speed we need to or whether we need to change something in our approach.
We aim to adopt the action plan in early 2021, so today’s event is very timely. I encourage you to use this opportunity to help us shape the future of Europe’s inland waterways transport network, in a way that not only overcomes the challenges ahead, but also raises the profile of our inland waterways transport network, while increasing its attractiveness for investors and innovation.