Green lanes - Ensuring the free flow of goods and services
To keep freight moving freely and efficiently across the EU, the European Commission has issued, on 23 March 2020, practical advice on the implementation of ‘green lanes’ – border crossings open to all freight vehicles carrying goods where any checks or health screenings should take no more than 15 minutes. Among others, it includes guidance on how to keep freight moving across the EU during the pandemic. Member States were requested to designate, without delay, all the relevant internal border-crossing points on the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) as ‘green lane' border crossings. Those green lane border crossings should be open to all freight vehicles, whatever goods they are carrying.
On 28 October, the Commission proposed to extend the Green Lane approach to ensure that multi-modal transport works effectively in areas including rail and waterborne freight and air cargo. Member States should ensure the seamless free movement of goods across the Single Market.
The Commission has also called on EU Member States to support air cargo operations during the coronavirus crisis and presented guidance to keep essential transport flows moving, including those of medical supplies and personnel.
On 25 January 2022, the Council adopted a new coordinated approach on free movement restrictions through which they reaffirmed the importance of ensuring the free movement of goods by recognising transport workers and seafarers as travellers with an essential function or need. This way, Member States should also seek to avoid disruptions to essential travel and guarantee the ‘green lanes' system and avoid supply chain disruptions in case the emergency brake of the recommendation is enacted.
See the border crossing times for trucks.
Supporting the transport industry
The European Commission and EU countries are taking action to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the transportation sector, and ensuring the quick and continuous flow of goods across the EU. This includes, but is not limited to, essential goods such as food and medical supplies.
The Commission has also adopted a package of measures to support companies in the aviation, rail, maritime and road sectors on 29 April 2020. This package follows action taken to ensure the safety of transport workers, keep travellers informed about their rights and ensure the circulation of essential goods across Europe.
On 29 April 2020, the Commission proposed a Regulation laying down specific and temporary measures in view of the COVID-19 outbreak. These concerned the validity of certain certificates, licences and authorisations and the postponement of certain periodic checks and training in certain areas of transport legislation (Omnibus I). On 25 May 2020, the proposal was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council (Regulation (EU) 2020/698). On 18 January 2021, the Commission adopted the COVID related Omnibus II proposal on renewal or extension concerning the validity of certain certificates, licences and authorisations and the postponement of certain periodic checks and training. On 16 February 2021, the proposal was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council (Regulation (EU) 2021/267).
The measures aim to ease the regulatory burden and reduce costs for transport companies. The continuation of supply chains via air, especially of highly critical medical supplies, is in the common interest of all. These exceptional measures will be temporary for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Any restrictions incompatible with EU laws must be lifted.
Cargo flows need to continue uninterrupted, in accordance with the Green Lanes and the Air Cargo Communication, not least to ensure the timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, for example.
Continuous and uninterrupted land transport is of crucial importance for the functioning of the EU internal market and its effective response to the current public health crisis.
The Commission has set out four objectives to ensure the continued functionality of freight transport on Europe’s roads, namely
- ‘green lane’ border crossings that should take a maximum of 15 minutes, including any checks or health screenings. See the general advice for public health measures and screening at points of entry.
- ‘green lanes’ should be open to vehicles carrying any type of goods. Our supply chains in Europe are closely integrated. We need to ensure the free circulation of all goods.
- national governments should suspend restrictions wherever possible – for instance bans to drive during the weekends or at night. This is an exceptional situation and we need to be flexible.
- reduce the paper work for transport workers of all nationalities, to enable them to cross borders more rapidly.
Following the Commission’s proposal, on 7 October 2020 the Regulation (EU) 2020/1429 of the European Parliament and of the Council laid down temporary rules on the levying of charges for the use of railway infrastructure. It applied to the use of railway infrastructure for domestic and international rail services covered by that Directive, during the period from 1 March 2020 until 31 December 2020.
- The Regulation conferred on the Commission the power to adopt delegated acts to extend the reference period until 14 April 2022 at the very latest.
- Due to the persisting negative impact of the pandemic on rail transport, the Commission has extended the initial reference period twice, first until 30 June 2021 and then until 31 December 2021 (through Commission Delegated Regulations (EU) 2020/2180 and (EU) 2020/1061 respectively).
- However, due to the expiration of the delegated powers conferred to the Commission, no further extensions through the means of a Commission delegated act were possible.
- Therefore, on 22 December 2021 the Commission adopted a proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2020/1429 as regards the duration of the reference period for the application of temporary measures concerning the levying of charges for the use of railway infrastructure. The Commission’s proposal aims at extending the reference period until 30 June 2022, with the possibility of further extensions until 31 December 2023 through delegated acts of the Commission.
Aviation is one of the most heavily-hit sectors with current flight levels of only around 40% compared to 2019 levels. Under the EU rules, Member States can employ various necessary measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, such as suspending flights from other EU Member States. The criteria for deciding what measures to take should be coordinated across the EU. In particular, it is crucial to maintain transport connections needed to provide the health emergency response.
In May, the Commission adopted rules amending parts of the Air Services Regulation to ease the financial pressure on aviation operators and ground handlers. On 13 November, the Commission announced that some of these temporary provisions are to be extended into 2021. However, the Commission will not extend the flexibility offered since May on prolonged flight restrictions, as effective health and sanitary measures have been found to be more effective at controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
The European Commission and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have published several guidance documents related to health and safety during flights for competent authorities, airports, airlines and their crews regarding the coronavirus pandemic. These non-legally binding recommendations on how to detect and manage sick passengers in airplanes and airports are available on EASA website.
Preventing “ghost flights” and ensuring flexibility for airlines
Air traffic has declined significantly during the coronavirus outbreak in Europe. In order to help ease the impact of the pandemic, the European Commission rapidly put forward targeted legislation to temporarily relieve airlines of their airport slot usage obligations under EU law. The amendment to the EU Slot Regulation was approved and entered into force on 1 April 2020.
On 14 October, the Commission adopted an extension to the waiver of EU rules on the use of airport slots to cover the entire winter season, until 27 March 2021. It will allow airline companies plan their flight schedules with more certainty without fear of losing their slots because under normal circumstances, airlines have to use 80% of the slots allocated to them to secure this allocation for the next season. This can result in unnecessary emissions where airlines fly almost empty aircraft, so called “ghost flights”, to keep their slots. The decision follows the results of the Commission’s report on air traffic data.
On 20 February 2021, the adopted amendment for the Slot Regulation on airport slot-use requirements for the summer of 2021 entered into force. This allows airlines to return up to half of the slots allocated before the start of the season. Airlines are required to use at least 50% of their remaining slots and may be exempted from this threshold if their routes are affected by measures to mitigate the pandemic. This amendment was adopted to adjust the slot rules to customer demand for air travel while fostering competition. This amendment also incentivises airlines to make efficient use of airport capacities and will ultimately also benefit travelers in the EU.
Cargo deliveries by air remain crucial for Europe. The European Commission issued guidance on 26 March 2020 for the continued support of air cargo operations
The measures include:
- inviting Member States to grant temporary traffic rights for additional cargo operations from outside the EU, if restrictions would normally apply
- temporarily removing night curfews and/or slot restrictions at airports for essential air cargo operations
- enabling the use of passenger aircraft for cargo-only operations if necessary exempting aircrew flying the aircraft from travel restrictions if they do not show symptoms of COVID-19.
As 75% of EU trade and 30% of all goods within the EU are transported by sea, the continuation of maritime transport is vital. Since the coronavirus pandemic first took hold, many have found themselves trapped on board, from cruise ship passengers to cargo vessel crew.
The European Commission has issued guidelines to support these individuals, providing recommendations on health, repatriation and travel arrangements. They also call on Member States to allow crew changes and create a network of ports where they can take place without delays.
Ensuring waste shipments across the EU
The Commission has issued guidance to ensure a common approach is taken in the EU for securing the continuation of waste shipments via the green lanes on 31 March 2020. The exceptional circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic call for maintaining a high level of public health and environmental protection. Intra-EU waste shipments are a key link in the whole supply chain, from waste collection to final treatment. It is essential to prevent and reduce any possible obstacles to cross-border movements of waste within the EU. The guidance is addressed to Member States authorities, economic operators and relevant stakeholders.