Last spring, officials at the Ministry of Transport and Communications spent some time thinking about how the Ministry could prepare even more effectively for Finland’s forthcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU than on the previous two occasions. The particular timing of the Presidency this year adds to the incentive for such improved preparations: the European elections will have been held in the spring, and the new Commission will perhaps not emerge until late autumn.
Finland’s Presidency will be over before the new Commission begins its work in earnest. Indeed, we will have to wait until next year for new initiatives from the Commission. On Brexit, as I write this there is still no certainty over its content or timing. Growth in the euro area economy is fading and both migration issues and the military dimension of the EU are increasingly becoming the focus of attention.
The Commission’s Directorates-General are nevertheless busily making preparations for future transport and communications policy. The question for us is how we can effectively influence the Commission’s five-year work programme and therefore the single market and transport and communications matters as well. This also includes the subject of emissions from transport.
The answer devised by the Ministry of Transport and Communications was to despatch a representative to present Finland’s views to the other EU Member States, about which matters it deems important for the whole of Europe.
This task was allotted to me, and I duly set off on my travels in early October 2018. The idea was to visit all Member States and then to discuss Europe’s growth and competitiveness with colleagues at the Commission.
Forty such trips have been clocked up so far, involving meetings with almost 300 fellow public officials. I have met four Directors-General at the Commission and will meet a further two in mid-March. The first half of this year also features various visits to international aviation, shipping and telecommunications organisations. All in all this has been a huge undertaking and is still ongoing this spring.
With the aim of influencing EU policy, the plan we have drawn up focuses on digital networks, transport and energy networks, the data economy, ‘servicification’ of mobility, automation, and carbon neutrality in the transport sector.
As with the banking and insurance sectors previously, new innovations will also change existing practices in transport and communications services. Networks will become more closely intertwined when, in the future, transport networks will include distribution networks for alternative fuels as well as a 5G network that enables data mobility and new services. Networks will allow different means of transport to be used more efficiently, will facilitate the servicification of the transport sector and will enable the climate impact of transport to be reduced. It is also important to know about developments in European know-how and in education and training. Cyber resilience, artificial intelligence and high-performance computing capacity are important prerequisites for the data economy and for innovation.
This is the picture that I have put to the test in my discussions with Member States. I would say that all Member States recognise the key importance of networks, services, data and climate. It is just the relative emphasis given that varies from one country to the next.
Some Member States emphasise the significance of physical infrastructure and accessibility. Others have a stronger focus on network integration and have, for example, well-advanced plans for 5G.
Some countries clearly highlight industrial and employment policies. If the motor vehicle industry is a major employer, climate change perspectives will easily take second place. Such countries need a transition period for their industrial sectors to adjust – to electrically powered transport, for example.
The spread of data use in traffic and transport is viewed as a positive step forward, but some Member States associate this only with the development of public transport. The opportunities for new business ideas, the sharing economy and the platform economy have not yet emerged as strongly as in Finland, where attention is already being given to service expansion and to the potential for using roaming with MaaS services.
The tour of Member States – which will continue in different forms throughout Finland’s Presidency – has provided a useful idea of the overall picture concerning transport and communications within the European Union. When Finland holds the Presidency, it is vital that we have a comprehensive picture that allows us to build Europe’s profile as a leader and innovator and to move forward with the single market.
The tour is ongoing and there are new contacts to be forged. Living my life out a suitcase since October has been a wonderful, eye-opening experience! It has also been professionally rewarding.
The author is currently serving as high-level representative for transport and communications policy. He is on leave of absence from his position as Director-General of the Ministry’s Networks Department until the end of February 2020.