‘Everyone should have a fair share of COVID-19 support measurements’
Non-discriminatory support measures for everyone in the rail freight sector. That is what the European Rail Freight Association wants from the European Commission and the Member States, responding to the the second COVID-19 wave hitting Europe currently. The lobby organisation, in short called ERFA, calls for an inclusive approach that will provide safety for all actors, and especially for private and independent operators. “We need to ensure that the new measures will not undermine competition”, commented Dirk Stahl, ERFA president.
Providing an environment of safe investments is urgent at the moment. The European rail freight industry might be a growing market with 44 per cent of new entrants in 2018, but most of the new entrants are non-incumbent operators. As a result, what is crucial at present is reassuring that everyone will have a fair share from the support measurements. Without a legal framework securing private and independent operators from unfair competition, the European rail freight market could prove fragile and unable of delivering its objectives in the end.
Deriving from the uncertainty of these times, ERFA compiled a list of preferred measurements that could secure the smooth running of the market. One of the main objectives is to make sure that aid must always be transparent and non-discriminatory. Consequently, bilateral measures will not be admissible due to their potential for destabilising the market. Additionally, ERFA underlined the need to keep using and updating the European Commission’s State Aid Temporary Framework. Adapting this framework to emerging needs could provide the required flexibility to support key industries.
Furthermore, the EU’s recent enactment of the “Regulation establishing measures for a sustainable rail market in view of the Covid-19 outbreak”, is evaluated as positive. The specific regulation allows the Member States to waive and reduce track access charges. From its point of view, ERFA thinks that such a measure could prove lifesaving for the rail freight sector and called all Member States to align with it. Finally, ERFA stretched the importance of continuing cross-border freight operations regardless of the pandemic’s development. The only way to achieve that is through a European Freight Transport Crisis Contingency Plan, which the EU should implement swiftly.
The application of the above should be made with an eye on the Green Deal objectives. According to ERFA, the COVID-19 crisis constitutes an excellent opportunity to learn lessons and make rail freight industry even stronger in the future.