Partie fédérale (BE-UK)

Answers for the federal and European elections (french speaking part)

Here are the answers from the main French-speaking parties that took the time to answer us. A colour code will be used to highlight the responses of each party, in relation to their respective political colour. With the exception of the PS, which wanted to answer the questions in a general way without dwelling on each question.

Federal part

  • According to the climate protests, a significant part of the Belgian population would like to have alternatives to polluting means of transport such as air travel in order to travel in Europe (over a medium distance). One possible solution remains the re-establishment of a night train service as it has been the case in the past. Would you be ready to support a network of nightly intercity trains from Belgium?
  • Ecolo: Yes, absolutely. Ecolo wants to encourage SNCB and other operators active or potentially active in international passenger transport to develop their offer of services on the Belgian network, whether by means of high-speed trains, tilting trains (Pendolino), conventional trains or night trains to be upgraded, and to allow domestic passenger transport on international trains

    MR: This possibility can be considered. We want to encourage low-emission mobility that will have a positive impact on society. However, we are ready to support such initiatives when they are justified and realistic. The use of air transport often remains necessary because rail connexion are not always optimal and infrastructure is not always adequate.

    DéFI: Yes, DéFI is ready to support a network of night-time intercity trains from Belgium

    cdH: Yes, we think it is an interesting option that will provide a credible alternative to air transport. Moreover, high-speed night transport (ed: sic) at night is likely to connect a large number of European cities.

    • As the Belgian State is the main shareholder of SNCB, will you invite it to study the creation of new services from Brussels and/or to collaborate with other night train networks in Europe? Is the State, like Sweden, willing to subsidize this service? If so, in what way? ?

    Ecolo : see answer n°1.

    MR: International transport is a market that is liberalized, which means that there are limits to state subsidies for this type of service. As a priority, we want to ensure the completion of the work on the Belgian network in order to ensure a quality offer that is attractive for all commuters and that encourages the population to take the train.  The feasibility of night connections could be studied. Collaboration with operators already active at night and meeting current standards could, if necessary, be an opportunity.

    DéFI: Yes, the creation of new night services from Brussels or collaboration with other night train networks in Europe must be studied within SNCB.

    cdH : The cdH is in favour of studying, with SNCB, and in partnership with companies from other countries, the possibility of offering night train services from Brussels (direct) or facilitating an integrated offer with night trains from nearby metropolitan areas (e. g. the connection of couchette trains from Paris to Barcelona or Italy) and promoting it. SNCB is already heavily subsidised, which allows it to offer more advantageous rates than those of similar countries. Before considering a special subsidy for night trains, we believe that there must be a “level playing field” between rail transport and air passenger transport. We want to abolish at European level the advantages in terms of VAT and kerosene tax enjoyed by air travel so that the price of air tickets is the true price. Europe must also play a more active role in specifically supporting night trains, as it is doing with Inter-Rail, in a spirit of European cohesion. This is part of the cdH’s programme.

    • In 2016, the Austrian railway services decided to focus on relaunching a night rail network. This investment made it possible to generate a profit for the company from the first year. Would you therefore be in favour of the government financing the purchase of new rolling stock in order to enable SNCB to offer a new offer for international markets?

    Ecolo: Yes, we can devote part of the additional $7 billion investment program we plan to dedicate to public transit.

    MR: We want to ensure the sustainability of SNCB, which must prepare for the liberalisation of the national passenger transport market. An offer of night transport must be the subject of prior analyses and studies. However, during this parliamentary term, we have already taken action in this area, in particular by strengthening the traditional daily international connections. Finally, we must not forget, either, the investments of SNCB and SNCF to promote the development of Thalys and high-speed trains from Brussels to the capitals and large cities of neighbouring countries.

    DéFI: Yes, it would be wise to ensure the financing of new rolling stock for the international service.

    cdH : The Belgian State largely finances the purchase of all new rolling stock from SNCB. The same would apply to night-time rolling stock. Before considering the purchase of such equipment, it would be necessary to see whether SNCB should be the operator and whether it would not make more sense for Belgium to adopt a “hub-and-spoke” approach, with Belgian passengers travelling, for example, to Paris by Thalys to take the night train to the south. The reinforcement of night trains must necessarily be part of a European dynamic with other operators.

    • What is your position on a kerosene tax? And if you support it, what will you do to ensure that it is implemented? Are you thinking of an alternative such as a tax on airline tickets?

    Ecolo: Ecolo pleads for the end of the VAT exemption on airline tickets and the tax exemption on kerosene. In practice, the ICAO Chicago Convention does not prohibit the taxation of kerosene. It prohibits the taxation of fuel already on board an arriving aircraft, but says nothing about the taxation of fuel on board before departure. Rather, it is intergovernmental air services agreements that often prohibit the taxation of kerosene, although this prohibition is gradually being removed from air services agreements for intra-EU flights. Some foreign carriers remain covered by this exemption, but a study commissioned by Transport&Environment and recently published shows that this regulatory obstacle can be overcome by including a de minimis exemption.

    It is therefore legally possible to:

    • tax kerosene on domestic flights;
    • tax kerosene on flights between Member States that have concluded a bilateral agreement (=between them).

    The minimum rate set in European legislation is 0.33€/l. This leads to an average increase of €10/passenger for a minimum total for the European Union of €5 billion annually.

    MR: The MR would like to see fairer pricing for the air sector in the European Union considered. In particular, we would like to revise the Chicago Convention to allow better consideration of the use of kerosene for tax purposes. The MR also wants to act on fuels, the environmental footprint of pollution and aircraft performance.

    DéFI: DéFI is in favour of a federal kerosene tax. Air traffic does not pay value added tax, CO2 tax or mineral oil tax, unlike motorists or property owners. At the fiscal level, air traffic is even favoured over rail traffic. DéFI therefore proposes to force all airlines, regardless of their nationality, with flights to or from Europe to buy the equivalent of 15% of their CO2 emissions over their entire journey, in order to finance the fight against global warming

    cdH: We support the idea of a kerosene tax for aircraft and therefore the revision of the Chicago agreements as well as the harmonisation between VAT on airline tickets and that on train tickets. These initiatives must be taken as a priority at European level, or at least with neighbouring countries, in order not to lead to a market shift to cross-border airports (Belgian passengers flying to Paris, Amsterdam or Maastricht) 

    Global answer from PS :

    In the “mobility” chapter of its election platform, the PS recommends that alternative means of transport to flying be preferred for all short and medium-distance journeys, depending on the possibilities. For both passenger and freight transport, high-speed trains must be supported and be able to offer competitive rates. In addition, a European or global kerosene tax should be introduced and very short flights should be banned.

    In its chapter on SNCB, the PS pleads for:

    • Refinancing of SNCB to the tune of €3 billion under the next legislature.  These resources must be mainly directed towards improving service to users, whether in the development of infrastructure or rolling stock.
    • The development of intra-European rail links, as an alternative to air transport, in order to be able to offer a competitive pricing policy to air travel.

    European part :

    • 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?
    • Ecolo: Ecolo wants to multiply partnerships with Governments and operators in neighbouring States and regions in order to develop and promote cross-border traffic for SNCB or railway companies operating in neighbouring countries. This requires appropriate pricing (reduction of VAT on train tickets) but also an end to distortions of competition in the air transport sector, i.e. tax exemptions on kerosene.

      MR: Our goal is to make train travel more efficient, comfortable and affordable. Where appropriate, the desirability and feasibility of night trains should first be studied where a service is possible, with priority given to neighbouring countries. However, it is not always possible to carry out any transport by train.  We want to continue to implement a trans-European rail network in several ways: increasing investment in infrastructure, contributing to the opening up of peripheral regions and raising safety and environmental standards.

      DéFI: Awareness-raising campaigns must be coupled with more affordable fares (the train in general remains expensive even over short distances if we compare Charleroi-Marseille by plane and by train compared, for example); from an environmental point of view, it has been shown that an aircraft emits 240 grams of CO2 per kilometre while the train indirectly emits only 10 grams of CO2 (ed: assumption from DéFI) per kilometre and per passenger.

      cdH : Pollution of modes of transport must be analysed per person or tonne displaced.  The ranking of the most polluting modes of transport therefore depends on their occupancy rate. The different modes of transport are also not always substitutes and therefore comparable depending on the distance to be travelled and the available infrastructure. Given the travel times, rail is a competitive option to air travel within a radius of 1,000 km from Belgium (with the exception of Ireland) that we believe should be encouraged. We want to do this by restoring the level playing field between rail and air passenger transport.

      • 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?

      Ecolo: Each mode must be taxed according to its impact on the environment, which means increasing the cost of aviation. The train can also be supported

      MR: As we have written above, we favour, where possible and realistic, the possibility of using more environmentally friendly modes of transport. The supply of trains must be sufficient and efficient. Road transport also has an impact, we must promote any policy measure that contributes to reducing its impact. Soft mobility can also have a role. It is therefore necessary to promote major joint projects for soft mobility, such as a network of cycle paths connected to that of neighbouring countries.

      DéFI: It is essential that more climate-friendly modes of transport, such as rail, can become competitive again; certainly, night trains must once again become a credible alternative to air transport for short flights, at the very least.

      cdH: We want to subject aviation kerosene and ship fuel oil to excise duty at European level, harmonise VAT on air and rail tickets at European level, by setting a maximum rate for the former and a minimum rate for the latter. These resources must be dedicated to a fund that supports the development of sustainable mobility.  Modify taxation on international short haul transport so as to encourage rail travel rather than air travel where this is possible. A European initiative to specifically support night trains can be envisaged, similar to the support given to Inter-Rail

      • 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?

      Ecolo : For Ecolo, liberalisation is far from having proved its worth in Great Britain, where it has been tested for nearly 20 years and is now being denounced. This is why Ecolo advocates that SNCB should remain the reference operator in Belgium and that it should develop partnerships with reference companies in other European countries.

      MR: Belgium has committed itself within the Union to liberalising rail transport. We do not prefer to go back. It is necessary to maintain SNCB in its public service missions.  For the rest, we consider that this liberalisation can ultimately increase the efficiency and supply of transport both nationally and internationally. This context will allow for better coordination, increased use and more services.

      DéFI: DéFI remains in favour of maintaining the only public service providing passenger transport, with a sufficient supply of lines, significant attention paid to the rural network and a sufficiently extensive network of the territory. In the perspective of energy transition and sustainable development, rail transport will become more important in the future in Europe and Belgium and significant investments will have to be made to ensure that users can gradually increase their use of the train, to the detriment of the vehicle.

      The Fifth Report from the European Commission to the Parliament and the Council on the monitoring of rail market developments (December 2016) shows a general increase in ridership in countries where rail liberalisation has taken place, but customer satisfaction, prices and safety remain divergent criteria – the United Kingdom has a more negative record than Germany, for example. This report therefore presents a mixed picture of liberalisation in this respect.

      This liberalisation of passenger transport will not in itself resolve what is at the heart of the mobility debate, namely the strengthening of hubs and the creation of multi-modal platforms, not to mention that, despite its density, the Belgian rail network remains generally small in size, and that it risks aggravating the imbalances already existing between Wallonia and Flanders in terms of investment.

      cdH: Unfortunately, the liberalisation of rail freight has not borne fruit in Belgium, given the reduction in the volumes transported. The liberalisation of passenger transport is not being implemented in Belgium at this stage. The cdH supports the idea of a direct allocation of public rail service to SNCB for a period of 10 years and therefore an equivalent postponement of this aspect of liberalisation, in order to avoid further weakening rail transport that is harmful to passengers.

      • 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?

      Ecolo: Ecolo believes that these are excellent proposals that must be supported by appropriate pricing, coordination of rail companies and advertising of the offer.

      MR: This type of proposal is a real opportunity. As we have mentioned, we want to act in a thoughtful way. However, here we are, in the context of international traffic, a market that is liberalised. This opportunity should be built on a European scale.

      DéFI: DéFI supports the establishment of an international network of interconnected day and night trains on a European scale.

      cdH: We are in favour of interconnecting rail networks and services in Europe. We are open to any proposal in this regard. We cannot comment on the LunaLiner as it is a German proposal on which little information seems to exist in other languages

      • 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?

      Ecolo: It cannot be said that there is a European high-speed rail network. Ecolo proposes to provide the Commission with a legal instrument or decision-making power to ensure that the European funds released can be used as a priority towards the completion of the central network corridors provided for in the TEN Regulation. For Ecolo, no matter what form this link takes, but the implementation of international agreements and the coordination of work must be ensured for the benefit of all Europeans. This process should also make it possible to make the best use of existing conventional lines.

      MR: This is a reality that sometimes requires the use of airplanes. This cannot be solved at the Belgian level alone, but must be done in a European context to ensure better harmonisation and coordination.

      DéFI: DéFI in its European programme believes that a vast investment plan must be launched in “green” transport infrastructure: a European network of high-speed trains, night trains, freight and inland waterways.

      cdH: We hope that the recent centralisation at European level of new competences for safety and interoperability management within the European Union Railway Agency (ERA) will soon be efficient.  We want the European Parliament to follow these developments

      • 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?

      Ecolo: Ecolo asks for the right for passengers to claim a refund of 50% of their ticket after an hour’s delay, 75% after 1h30 and a full refund after 2 hours, whatever happens.

      MR: We consider this to be a problem, especially when several operators are involved in travel. A fair balance must be struck between the rights of users and the situations faced by operators. It is obvious that if no compensation or solution is proposed in the event of cancellation, this situation is detrimental to the user. A European strategy must be developed to avoid any difference in treatment.

      DéFI: Of course, the connection nodes must be as smooth as possible. DéFI does not comment as it stands on the notion of exceptional circumstances that may justify refusing the possibility of compensation in the event of cancellation or delay, but considers that the interests of customers must be given priority.

      cdH: We advocate that rail should become the most widely used mode of transport in Europe, including for travel between European countries. To do this, it is necessary to guarantee the best quality of service. It is therefore essential to strengthen passengers’ rights. The European Parliament has come out in favour of a strong strengthening of EU rail passenger rights. As for the “exceptional circumstances”, we are in favour of a balanced solution that can both protect users and avoid any discrimination.  Today, other modes of transport provide for an exemption from reimbursement due to force majeure. This is not the case for railway undertakings.

      • 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?

      Ecolo: Ecolo pleads for the end of the VAT exemption on airline tickets and the tax exemption on kerosene. In practice, the ICAO Chicago Convention does not prohibit the taxation of kerosene. It prohibits the taxation of fuel already on board an arriving aircraft, but says nothing about the taxation of fuel on board before departure. Rather, it is intergovernmental air services agreements that often prohibit the taxation of kerosene, although this prohibition is gradually being removed from air services agreements for intra-EU flights. Some foreign carriers remain covered by this exemption, but a study commissioned by Transport&Environment and recently published shows that this regulatory obstacle can be overcome by including a de minimis exemption.

      It is therefore legally possible to:

      • tax kerosene on domestic flights;
      • tax kerosene on flights between Member States that have concluded a bilateral agreement (=between them).

      The minimum rate set in European legislation is 0.33€/l. This leads to an average increase of €10/passenger for a minimum total for the European Union of €5 billion annually

      MR: The MR would like to see fairer pricing for the air sector in the European Union considered. In particular, we would like to revise the Chicago Convention to allow better consideration of the use of kerosene for tax purposes. The MR also wants to act on fuels, the environmental footprint of pollution and aircraft performance.

      DéFI: As mentioned above, DéFI is in favour of a tax on kerosene and this will have even more impact if it is imposed at European level

      cdH: We want to subject aviation kerosene and ship fuel oil to excise duty at European level, and also to harmonise VAT on air and train tickets at European level.

      • 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?

      Ecolo: Ecolo advocates a strict national and international ban on cities connected by rail and less than 1000 km away

      MR: No. While this can be considered on some well-served sections (Amsterdam, Paris, London), in other cases, rail links do not always allow it (examples: Brussels-Prague (907 km): by plane 1h25 and by train 16h ; Brussels-Berlin (746 km) : 1h25 by plane 7h15 by train; etc.). It is necessary to develop a realistic, efficient and affordable offer (trains, coaches, etc.) of alternative modes. A ban without a credible alternative would be counter-productive and contrary to the European spirit which enshrines the mobility of Europeans and the free movement of individuals across Europe. This measure could also have serious consequences for tourism, the economy, schools and families (several million Europeans live in an EU country that is not the country of origin). 

      DéFI : DéFI does not intend to ban short-haul flights because our political philosophy is inspired by social liberalism, i.e. one that demands more justice and balance; increasing the supply of night trains is a priority for the next legislature, we must ensure that we gradually attract more customers and users for public rail transport, this remains a goal, and this necessarily involves more attractive fares.

      cdH: We really want to question the relevance of certain flights for very short distances; even if the use of the plane may be essential for health, family or other emergencies. The first step is in any case to ensure that the true cost applies to the use of kerosene, which, given the fuel consumption at take-off, will necessarily have a greater impact on short distances.

      • 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, …)?

      Ecolo: See answer n°7  

      Alternative: Tax on airline tickets

      Intra-Community and third-country transport by air and sea is exempt from VAT in all Member States. On the other hand, some countries – including Belgium – charge VAT on these journeys by rail (train) and/or road (bus) (6%). This situation creates a distortion of competition that is harmful to these alternative and less polluting modes. This is particularly true with regard to competition between high-speed rail and air transport.

      Some States (AT, DE, FR, DE, UK) have introduced ticket tax systems to compensate for this lack of VAT. These are flat-rate systems, the flat-rate packages being established on the basis of the distance of the flight and the class of the ticket (business / economic).

      Apply a tax on all tickets for flights departing from a Belgian airport. A single fare would have a greater impact on short-haul flights, which are also the most polluting (per km flown) and those for which alternatives are the easiest. The number of air passengers departing from Belgium in 2017 is 16.6 million. The revenue from a tax at the rate of 25€ would be around 415 million euros.

      MR: The MR would like to see fairer pricing for the air sector in the European Union considered. In particular, we would like to revise the Chicago Convention to allow better consideration of the use of kerosene for tax purposes. The MR also wants to act on fuels, the environmental footprint of pollution and aircraft performance.  We also want to encourage airports to implement measures that reduce their environmental impact.  We must also reduce greenhouse gas and fine particle emissions from air traffic and airport operations in Belgium

      DéFI: The kerosene tax remains a strong measure to combat aviation emissions and to regulate their effects.

      cdH: We advocate the taxation of kerosene for aircraft and the application of VAT to airline tickets

      Global answer from PS

      A rebalancing must take place in the fares offered to users between air and rail.  For environmental reasons, the PS therefore supports the introduction of a European kerosene tax and increased subsidies for rail operators. The objective is to be able to offer similar fares between air and rail for equivalent distances.

      The PS also intends to put an end to the European CO2 quota system and replace it with a mechanism that really encourages companies, including those active in air transport, to develop without CO2.

      The PS also wants to explicitly integrate the international air and maritime transport sectors into the Paris Agreement. This will ensure that these sectors have binding and ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets to meet and verify their monitoring.

      It is also necessary to ban very short flights.

      In addition, the gradual liberalisation of some parts of the public sectors (rail transport, energy, postal services) imposed by the European Union has considerably changed the daily management of public companies.  The management techniques induced by this liberalisation have shown all their limits when it comes to managing a company whose aim must remain the collective well-being.

      For the PS, all the possibilities offered by European regulations must be used to maintain State control over public companies.

      The impact of liberalisation must be assessed on an ongoing and independent basis.  The European treaties must be revised so that public companies are no longer subject to competitiveness standards.

      The current state shareholdings must be maintained in companies that provide a service to the entire population.  The general interest must be at the heart of the strategy of these companies