Sustainable Mobility Requires a Rapid Roll-Out of Infrastructure That Considers the Differences Within the EU.

Nils Torvalds – Member of the European Parliament.

The green transition is well underway, and my not-so-enthusiastic colleagues in the European Parliament will not be able to stop that. Why this statement as an introduction? When I started as an MEP in 2012, both individuals and the industry were, in general, very reluctant to change. That has changed radically. Citizens and industry would, in many cases, like to go faster if only they could define the right means and would have the legal certainty. Both individuals and companies are afraid of stranded assets and bad investments. For the citizen, it might be a new car, for a company, a new factory, or a new product in a complicated value chain.

This might sound like everything would be solved. But it is actually where the real challenges start. The transition is on its way but still in the early stages and from a politician’s point of view, we need to ensure we reach the desired climate targets on time. Even if the transition is not stopped, a slowdown can still be detrimental. While we are in a hurry, we need to make sure that we reach the targets in the most efficient way possible to ensure the continued welfare and engagement of our citizens.

Here, we have the first stumbling stones. What might be the most efficient solution in Finland does not necessarily lead to the most efficient solution in a country with a different infrastructure and natural circumstances. One size does not fit all.

Even if we might be saved from opportunistic efforts to stop the transition, a successful implementation requires logically coherent legislation combined with ambition, fact-based data anchored in the real world, and predictability. The latter is a matter of conscience – are we weathervanes, and are firms acting opportunistically? 

Sometimes, politicians build their worldviews on assumptions that are more make-believe than hard facts. That’s very human, but it is not always helpful. The Green Deal is actually an enormous paradigm shift, and to get everything right in the first run would be quite unlikely. Therefore, it would be especially important to stay away from ideologically tainted beliefs.

From this vantage point, how has the relevant decision-making process on EU level looked like during the current mandate?

The ambition level of the current Commission has been very high – to say the least. The number of legislative proposals is leaving earlier Commissions in the shadows. This is, at the same time, both good and bad. The scope of the transition requires a huge legislative effort. But, instead of constructing a stable framework for future endeavours, the Commission has, on several occasions, fallen into the trap of overly detailed proposals and ideologically tainted assumptions.

As I mentioned earlier, the ambition level needs to be high in order to meet the targets, but the problem with this Commission is that the ambition level has often not at all been anchored in the real world. The impact assessments have not always been transparent regarding assumptions of – for instance – life cycles. Stakeholders have felt left on the outside when their concerns have not fitted the frames of the Commission. What followed was a rising mistrust, which then erupted into a crisis around the proposal for the Nature Restoration Law. Indeed, central parts of the Impact Assessment for NRL were ill-fitted to the realities of the Member States. This contributed considerably to the growing mistrust regarding the Commission’s way of directing development in Europe and played indirectly into the hands of the Eurosceptic and climate denial groups.

But what have these mistakes to do with the goals set for infrastructure and sustainable mobility? 

The next Parliament will be much more hesitant than the now outgoing one. During the now-ending mandate, we could have two alternating majorities. That enabled part of the more comprehensive decisions but, at the same time, alienated the European People’s Party (EPP) from the remaining members of the von der Leyen majority. The incoming parliament will probably have just one constructive majority building on EPP, S&D, RE and the Greens. Consequently, the next Commission must understand that the arrogance combined with mistakes have created a new dynamic regarding the Green Deal and the 2040 targets.

The 2040 targets are extremely important as milestones, considering what steps must be taken on the way to 2050. In the recent Commissioner hearings of Mr Šefčovič and Mr Hoekstra, I was therefore keen on hearing their priorities on this. As transportation plays such a key role in our decarbonisation, it is imperative that the sector focuses on and reaches our 2040 and 2050 targets. 

As the average age of our fleet in Europe is 12 years for passenger cars, 14 years for trucks and airplanes and 22 years for vessels, it is crucial that the 2030 targets will be reached and that the 2040 targets take into consideration the infrastructure needs of transport in 2050. Again, when you present these figures as a European average, it sounds like everyone could have the same trajectory to the same kind of solutions. But you do not need to look at the figures very long to realize that Greece, having a truck fleet with an average age closer to 23 years, will have different challenges in the field of heavy-duty vehicles than Austria with the same fleet being just over six years. Likewise, one should not need to argue for long between the different circumstances to navigate a vessel to Finland, with the Baltic Sea frozen every winter, and navigating a vessel on the Danube in Romania and Bulgaria. The best solutions for fuel and infrastructure can and will be different even in 2040.

The role of innovations will be crucial for the 2040 and 2050 targets but for the 2030 targets, we essentially have the technology already. We just need to quickly roll out the best-suited and most efficient infrastructure for every part of the union to reach those targets.

Solutions will exist for our 2040 and 2050 targets but will look different in different Member States. The most efficient solutions and roll-out of infrastructure for road, rail, sea, and air transport for a Northern-Finnish town bordering Russia and with 0,15 inhabitants per km², an average yearly temperature of 0 °C and more than 1000 km to the capital will look different than on Malta, with almost 1700 inhabitants per km², an average temperature close to 20 °C and consisting of islands far from any mainland.

This is not just a question of innovations and technology. Money talks here, too. For this reason, we need to understand and be open about the differences between and within the Member States and how this translates in terms of infrastructure needs. And we need to do that without getting stuck in ideological one-size-fits-all proposals. The expected enlargement of our union further emphasises this insight.

With the upcoming Commission most likely looking very different and majorities in the European Parliament being more difficult to find, the importance of respecting the combination of ambition, fact-based data, and predictability becomes crucially important. We have been used to a campaign of respect on the football fields. Showing respect for the differences between the Member States would not be a bad idea either.