From our point of view, everything must be done to strengthen the railways as a mode of transport compared to the airplane and also the car. This includes fair competition between modes of transport (see answer to question 2), but also investment in the rail network rather than in the further development of airport and road infrastructure. For longer journeys – which should even include more than 1,000 km on appropriately upgraded routes – night trains are a very convenient option for the journey, which must be encouraged. That is why our parliamentary group in the Bundestag has been very vehement in its support for their preservation (see Bundestag documents DS 18/2494, 18/7904 and others). The EU should also play the role of coordinator between railway operators, e.g. via the European Union Agency for Railways, so that a coordinated Europe-wide network of day and night trains can once again be created, making rail a good alternative on all routes within Europe (see answer to question 4).
The kerosene tax exemption for air transport must be abolished within the EU (see answer 7.1). The VAT exemption for cross-border flights, which applies in many EU countries, must also be abolished. Instead, the energy tax on traction electricity, which already contains a considerable proportion of renewable energy, should be reduced and additional burdens on it (e.g. the EEG levy in Germany) should be eliminated. Taxation is the task of the national parliaments and is also demanded by our parliamentary group in the Bundestag (see Bundestag document DS 18/3746), but in our view a corresponding EU directive would have to make the right demands here and thus also ensure that the national parliaments do not always retain the aviation-friendly regulations on the grounds of alleged competition within the EU. In addition, EU investment policy must be designed in such a way as to promote climate-friendly modes of transport – above all the railways.
We are also committed to fair working conditions. In the case of low-cost airlines in particular, extreme wage squeezing has so far often been practised through bogus self-employment, the undermining of national tariffs and other methods, which must be prevented throughout Europe.
The liberalisation of the rail market is, in our view, a wrong track which, with the exception of exceptional cases, has not led to better connections, but in many cases to poorer connections, particularly in cross-border traffic. A few decades ago there were better rail connections on many routes through Europe than there are today, because the state railways of that time usually worked together very well. Today, as a result of liberalisation, these railways see each other as competitors and compete against each other in the other countries, which makes cooperation considerably more difficult and which has eliminated many of these cross-border connections, particularly in night train transport.
In our view, railway policy must focus on cooperation between railway companies rather than on competition. We advocate a corresponding change in EU railway policy, which so far has driven liberalisation even further with each of the “railway packages”. Instead, it is high time we realise that this ideology is obviously not working in the railway sector and that cooperation must instead be promoted for the benefit of passengers, the climate and the environment.
We consider the “LunaLiner”, which was also supported by politicians of DIE LINKE, to be a very interesting concept to be able to offer good rail connections on many different routes across Europe. This concept should be the starting point for a discussion about a future coordinated long-distance train network for the whole of Europe.
In the European Parliament, we will advocate that the EU commissions a large-scale study for such a concept as a first step. On this basis, it must then enter into discussions with the European railways and discuss with them the rapid implementation of such a concept. An EU support programme both for any necessary line expansion measures (especially in border areas) and for the acquisition of wagon equipment and the operation of the lines must then ensure that this implementation actually takes place. An EU-wide networked reservation system is also needed so that cross-border trains can be booked at least as easily as is already the case in air transport today.
Here, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) points to a flagrant lack of EU transport investment policy, which has spent many billions of euros on partly questionable expansion projects. The spending of funds under the TEN-T programme must be fundamentally revised, as the ECA demands in its report. The subsidies must indeed aim to improve cross-border connections for passenger and freight transport, rather than simply to expand national networks. The focus should not be on high-speed transport alone, since in many cases much more favourable upgrade measures can also mean effective improvements. In particular, EU funding should not be used to support projects that even damage rail transport (such as the widely discussed Stuttgart 21 project).
We advocate the proposed strengthening of existing passenger rights so that railway operators really have a strong incentive to ensure reliability in rail transport – through appropriate maintenance and servicing, but also emergency and bypass concepts and readily available replacement trains. From the customer’s point of view, this is important if rail is to be a truly reliable option for long-distance travel. In this respect, operators should not be able to refuse compensation on the basis of “exceptional circumstances”. This would open an ultimately unsolvable discussion on what is and what is not force majeure. If, for example, trees fell on the railway line as a result of a storm, in most cases appropriate preventive maintenance measures could have prevented the damage, which is the responsibility of the railway infrastructure manager, or replacement trains and bypasses could at least have mitigated the consequences. Compensation must focus on the actual impact on passengers, whatever the reason. This should apply equally to all modes of transport.
Indeed, CORSIA will have the same climate impact as the EU ETS – none at all. This makes effective measures necessary in view of the ever-increasing burden of aviation (climate damage, noise).
In addition to the measures mentioned in 7.1. and 7.2., DIE LINKE is committed to establishing binding EU tax provisions (including VAT) for environmentally friendly modes of transport and to putting an end to social dumping in the air transport sector. For example, the EU regulation on ground handling services has set in motion a downward spiral in working conditions in favour of the airlines, which must be ended.
The design of the Single European Sky must be put to the test fundamentally, as the focus here is on unchecked air traffic growth. The same applies to the area of EU aviation agreements with third countries, which have so far been radical free trade agreements in which environmental and social aspects effectively play no role. In addition, minimum requirements should be set for a Europe-wide air transport levy, as is the case with other modes of transport (truck tolls, train track access fees).
DIE LINKE expressly supports the introduction of a kerosene tax. To introduce it, the tax exemption on kerosene in the EU Energy Tax Directive must be abolished in the short term and a minimum tax rate must be set at the level of gasoline. In order to achieve the EU’s climate targets, however, a comprehensive reform of energy taxation will be necessary. Accordingly, kerosene, which has so far been exempt, would be subject to the highest tax rate. Electricity used by railways, on the other hand, must be taxed at a preferential rate throughout Europe. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here, as the EU Commission itself has drawn up a corresponding amendment (in need of improvement), which was, however, dropped under pressure from industry.
Short-haul flights must be shifted to the railways – without any ifs or buts. Since it is difficult to regulate these directly, i.e. by banning them, the measures to promote the railways must first be exhausted. Above all, DIE LINKE wants to shift to the rail those flights which can be replaced by four-hour train journeys, and this requires a well-developed rail network. In the EU’s infrastructure policy, however, rail is in danger of becoming even less important than road. This is mainly due to the soft spot of the Juncker administration for public-private partnerships (PPP), which is institutionalised through the “Fund for Strategic Investments” and the “CEF Directive”. We want to align the EU’s investment policy with ecological criteria (i.e. prioritise railway projects) and no longer leave investment decisions to investment bankers, as is currently the case.
In addition, we want to reduce the number of air traffic services on offer, i.e. the number of aircraft movements. As already mentioned, we want to impose a burden on air traffic by introducing an air traffic tax and amend the EU Ordinance on Operating Restrictions to the effect that night flights will be the exception in future. In addition, the EU slot regulation should be used to reduce the number of flights (e.g. by capping the hourly corner values).