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Groen – Belgium (UK)

– 1: Since air travel is the most climate harming form of transport, what do you propose in order to make more people use trains instead of planes for trips up to 1000 km in the EU and which role should night trains play in this concern?

Belgium is now a blind spot on the map of European night trains. The SNCB’s last night train, the one between Paris and Brussels, ran out in 2003.

1.                   We are continuing to develop international (high-speed) train connections and breathe new life into European night trains. By 2030, at least all cities with more than half a million inhabitants will be connected by international (high-speed) trains. In the first instance, we will work on smooth connections of up to 500 km and then continue on to 1,000 km.

2.                   There will be a revival of night trains by providing support from our country and the EU to operators who want to operate missing night train connections between major European cities. We are removing the infrastructural barriers to cross-border rail traffic for goods and passengers.

3.                   There will be better real-time information about the (international) movements on the railway network. By 2022, there will be at least one multilingual travel planner and ticket site in the EU that will give you neutral and multimodal travel information from door to door. On their website, airlines provide an alternative route for each connection without the use of airplanes when the alternative has a travel time of less than 6 hours.

– 2: What will you do in order to level the playing field between the different modes of long-distance travel or would you even give stronger support to the more climate friendly modes of transport – and how?

That is why we want to create a level playing field. Some decisions are at the European level, but others can already be tackled at the national level.

1.                   In order to tackle the tax exemption for air traffic, we are abolishing the VAT exemption for air tickets.

2.                   There will also have to be excise duties on kerosene. In order to introduce the kerosene tax, bilateral agreements must be concluded at EU level or between individual countries. We advocate a series of agreements at EU level and ensure that, in the meantime, the aviation agreements concluded between individual countries do not mortgage the introduction of a kerosene tax.

3.                   In the short term, we will levy a tax on tickets. The per-passenger tax is already applied in many Western European countries. We make it higher depending on the distance and also for business class. In time, we will replace this levy with an aviation levy per airplane. The charge per aircraft then depends on the capacity, the distance travelled and the environmental characteristics of the aircraft. The latter will also tax passenger planes with empty seats and cargo planes, while airlines will have additional incentives to innovate in terms of emission reduction.

We are investing the revenue from aviation charges in international rail connections.

Response European Greens – 3: How do you judge the success of the hitherto existing EU policy of liberalization of the rail market as the way to achieve good national and cross-border train connections? Do you support this policy or would do you plan to introduce an alternative?

The 4th railway package of the EU lacks the right vision for a solid, future-oriented railway policy in the European Union. It relies unilaterally on liberalisation and competition from low-cost suppliers. For rail customers in the European Union, these proposals bring hardly any improvements. The tendering rules for railway projects leave too many loopholes. Some Member States are still foreclosing their markets, but their companies are competing in other countries. At home, contracts are awarded directly to them without tendering and other companies are excluded. Direct awards must continue to be possible – but only for those companies that do not take part in the competition themselves.
The new rules take far too little account of environmental or social standards. The transfer of personnel in the event of a change of operator is not binding. There is a threat of competition not for the most customer-friendly offer, but for the lowest wage costs.

– 4: There are ideas for a Europe wide interconnected day and night train cross-border network (e.g. the “LunaLiner”) as an alternative to short and mid distance flights. What do you think about these plans, and if you support them what would you do in order to implement this?

Absolutely a good idea! We would invest the revenue from aviation charges in removing the bottle necks for the infrastructure. A few examples: we are ensuring the standardisation of the European rail network. The TGV that runs between Amsterdam and Paris has six different safety systems on board. There will be one European rail safety system. We are standardising the system of train path charges by the infrastructure managers. Infrastructure managers will also provide space on the network for night trains, even when the morning rush hour starts. Linked to this, we call for a ban on short-haul flights in Europe.

Response European Greens – 5: The European Court of Auditors calls the European high-speed rail network an “ineffective patchwork” that does not lead to good connections on the EU level (see report No 19 from the European Court of Auditors). What do you plan in order to improve this situation?

In order to promote green European mobility, we want Europe to grow together by rail. Instead of primarily financing major projects worth billions, such as Stuttgart 21, with little European benefit, European funding must be used specifically for existing and missing sections. The European railway network is still a patchwork with numerous gaps at national borders. We want to change that. The European Gap Closing Programme, launched in 2016 for the first time, is a green success that will bring about significant improvements.