Les Verts (UK)

Answers of the French Green Party

(Europe – Écologie – Les Verts)

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?

Air travel is the most polluting mode of transport. It currently benefits from tax measures that support its activity, to the detriment of alternative, more virtuous means of transport. Kerosene consumed for air transport is not subject to TICPE (domestic tax on the consumption of energy products) or VAT (not at all for international flights, 10% for domestic flights). This exemption allows air tickets to be on average 12% cheaper, which distorts other modes of transport and sometimes means that air travel is cheaper than rail for some domestic routes. The train is subject to the CSPE (contribution to the public electricity service) and a VAT rate of 10%. As such, the train internalizes all negative externalities. This is not the case for aviation, which distorts competition in favour of the most polluting mode of transport.

However, kerosene emits 14 to 20 times more CO2 than the train per km travelled and per person transported according to the Réseau Action Climat (RAC). The abolition of this exemption for domestic flights could bring in 500 million euros per year for France and 3 billion euros if the abolition concerned all flights. This exemption benefits above all the richest 20%: according to the RAC, the ¾ of the aircraft seats are used by them.

We therefore propose to introduce a tax on kerosene on domestic flights (Germany, the Netherlands or Switzerland already do so), but also at European level, on international flights. This requires a revision of the Chicago International Convention (which specifies that aircraft fuel cannot be taxed on the ground of the country of arrival, thus preventing taxation of international flights). Tax revenues from carbon and kerosene taxation will have to be spent on more environmentally friendly modes of transport, including rail. They would make it possible to develop rail services in France and Europe, in particular long-distance journeys, by subsidising the Intercity trains and night trains, which the current government has reduced. We logically welcome the Dutch proposal for a European tax on kerosene.

In addition to the polluter-pays principle that must be restored, another form of competition is also exercised through the social factor. Low-cost aviation models are unparalleled in the rail sector. A framework of social standards for flight crews and leasing was expected during this mandate and repeatedly requested by the Greens. The European Commission has not followed up, which we regret.

In this context, the night train has an important role to play, as many destinations cannot be served within a reasonable time during the day. Thus, with the exception of certain roads where high-speed lines already exist, journeys between major cities 700, 1000 or 1200 kilometres away still take more than half a day by day train.

The night train thus becomes a particularly attractive alternative offer, making it possible not to sacrifice part of one’s day. In the absence of a night train, it is the plane that appears to be the best compromise for comfort.

It also allows an arrival in the city centre and an extremely easy offer of connections to extend your journey to a city beyond the arrival of the night train.

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?

Beyond equity, it is necessary to promote the most virtuous modes of transport. This must be achieved by introducing ecological taxation according to the polluter-pays principle: the most polluting forms of mobility (air, car, lorries) must be taxed more than clean mobility, rail and urban public transport, which should benefit from subsidies to make them more competitive. 100% of carbon tax revenues should be dedicated to the energy transition, including clean transport. We also propose a reduction in VAT on public transport, as well as a reduction in taxes on rail, which is low-polluting but overtaxed. To accelerate this exit from carbon dependence, we propose to stop investments in fossil resource extraction and redirect them towards renewable energies.

Restoring equity must be coupled with an incentive to take the train. This can be achieved through a modernised public transport service, in particular for Intercity, regional and night trains. A modern service would then be provided by a high service level train, in which it would be possible to transport your bike, work, connect to high-speed wifi, find easy and fast mobility solutions in the station. Social pricing for job seekers, students and the elderly or people with disabilities is also one of the conditions for an attractive renewed public rail service that must be strengthened.

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 rail package, adopted in 2016, completes the policy of full liberalisation of European rail transport. Considering that this policy will not improve the service provided to passengers and will not meet the requirements of common interest, the Verts/ALE Group opposed it. This package does not offer any guarantee of improved services for passengers and does not provide any binding rules to ensure that environmental and social standards are respected. On the contrary, it takes the form of uncontrolled liberalisation that promotes price-based competition at the expense of service quality, environmental and social considerations. What will become of the lines that are not very or not profitable? Their disappearance will complicate climate protection objectives, even though they are environmentally friendly alternatives. Employees of public rail operators will have no guarantee that their jobs will be preserved, as new operators will not be required to re-hire public operators’ staff. Nor will private operators be required to maintain preferential social tariffs for students, the unemployed or pensioners.

In summary, for main lines, the rail regulator will have to ensure that the new high-speed lines do not interfere with the proper functioning of the regional network. For regional trains, the service organising authorities (the Regions) will have to ensure, even if the European regulation does not require it, that calls for tenders include all the necessary safeguards in terms of service, station and train safety and social pricing.

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?

The night train is particularly relevant on a European scale, where many journeys exceed a thousand kilometres, making day trains unattractive. The development of a European night train network would be a very positive project for the European Union, both for the climate and for cohesion between Member States.

The Greens are ready to explore various options for the European Union to allow the re-establishment of this international network.

The Greens also support the re-establishment of many transnational rail links that are now out of service and would be extremely useful if they were to be operated.

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?

The report states that there is no realistic long-term plan for the Union’s fragmented and inefficient high-speed rail network, that all national lines are not or poorly connected, and that cross-border sections are not a priority for Member States.

High speed has long been the great French railway doctrine. It has produced very large inequalities between territories and generated a huge operating debt, without being accessible to all citizens. We advocate a freeze on high-speed development projects and unnecessary major projects such as Lyon-Turin. The money saved must be used for a major national renovation plan for regional and Intercity lines, the completion of electrification of lines in rural areas and the strengthening of interconnection between conventional lines.

6) Recently EU rail passenger rights were under debate. What is your position concerning the future of passenger rights in rail and other modes of public transport? This particularly concerns cross-border services and a journey chain involving two or more operators? Should operators be able to refuse compensation if a service is cancelled or severely delayed because of “exceptional circumstances” and, if so, how should “exceptional circumstances” be defined?

The possibility of refusing compensation on the basis of “exceptional circumstances” carries the risk of opening the door to a whole series of exceptions, to the detriment of travellers’ rights. The text is still under discussion. By reforming the 2007 Passenger Rights Directive, the idea is to improve travelling conditions to make rail transport more attractive, which implies a better combination with other modes of transport such as cycling, better information and care for people with reduced mobility in stations and a better compensation scale in the event of train delays or cancellations.

Several advances have been made under this text. Thanks to the Greens and in particular Karima Delli’s involvement, passenger rights in rail have been strengthened: bicycles will finally be able to take the train and users’ rights have been considerably improved. If the voice of the European Parliament is respected, passengers will also be able to claim 50% reimbursement of their tickets after one hour’s delay, 75% after one and a half hour and in full beyond two hours. We regret the lack of willingness to guarantee an adequate service for people with reduced mobility throughout the EU. Only stations with +10,000 passengers/day (3% of EU stations) will have permanent assistance; this is not acceptable.

7) What is your position on a kerosene tax, either EU‐wide or between EU member states? And if you support it: What will you do in order to get it implemented?

In view of the expected explosion in air traffic, it will necessarily be necessary to adopt a tax on kerosene. Excluding ICTPE and VAT, it is the only petroleum-based fuel that is exempt from taxes.

Rather than waiting for a unanimous vote of the 191 ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) member states to renegotiate international agreements, Europe can set an example by introducing taxation on intra-European flights. The EU has been a pioneer in creating a carbon market for these intra-European flights, despite ICAO protests, and several Member States already tax kerosene on domestic flights. We must now go further, by initiating bilateral agreements with States that so wish to tax kerosene on international flights.

7.1) Would you support a general ban on short distance flight in the EU? If yes: Which should be the minimum distance to allow flights? If no: Which other measures to limit short distance flights do you plan to implement?

The aviation sector must also achieve the -70% CO2 reduction targets by 2050: it makes no sense to have taken this sector out of the Paris Agreements. This reduction could be achieved by supporting technological innovations that involve the air transport sector in a real energy transition, but above all by reducing traffic, and in particular short-haul flights, which must be limited. The right level of constraint has yet to be determined, and each time, a quality rail alternative must be proposed.

Overnight flights, which pose noise pollution problems, must also be drastically reduced, to limit them to rare intercontinental flights.

It is also essential to limit the erratic development of regional airports, which have grown in recent years, and whose investments have been strongly criticised by the European Court of Auditors. These only serve certain low-cost models that engage in real economic blackmail and employment with these regions to continue to operate.

7.2) Since the new international agreement CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) and the EU-ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) are not sufficient to tackle aviation emissions, what other measures do you envisage in order to regulate aviation (e.g. a tax on kerosene, tickets, VAT; a frequent flyer levy; a moratorium on airport infrastructure expansion; a ban of certain flights, e.g. short haul flights, …)?

The implementation of CORSIA was agreed in June 2018, with the reduction targets having been the subject of a specific agreement in Montreal in 2016 for which the Greens had expressed their disappointment by describing them as “non-COP21 compatible”. These new agreements have established agrofuels as the main source of greenhouse gases emission reduction with the following quantified objectives:  – 2% for 2025, – 32% for 2040 and – 50% for 2050.

This agreement, which might seem relevant, is in fact counterproductive in that at the moment the world production of agrofuels is very limited. 3rd generation agrofuels are not yet available at prices that are competitive with fossil fuels. Setting such targets therefore amounts to organising the substitution of palm oil for aircraft fossil fuels.

This disagreement on the competition between food crops and crops for agrofuels is reinforced by the fact that, in September 2015, ICAO took the decision to limit the criteria governing agrofuel production, for example by removing the deforestation criterion. In this respect, the Greens have also expressed their concern about the REDII Directive. The European Parliament had asked for palm oil to be phased out by 2021, but the trialogues postponed the implementation of the measure until 2030. The Greens are calling for the reduction of emissions as set by ICAO to be achieved not only by replacing fossil fuels with alternative fuels. That is why they propose to relaunch the Single European Sky in order to optimise flow management and promote fuel savings.

Limiting greenhouse gases emissions from the aviation sector through a pricing strategy will necessarily require the internalisation of negative externalities. To do this, the end of the various tax niches that the sector benefits from is essential. Internalisation also implies a de facto increase in taxes on transport tickets, in accordance with the polluter pays principle.