On 23 May 2022, the European Commission has drawn up a Contingency Plan for Transport to strengthen the resilience of the EU transport in times of crisis. The plan draws lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and from the challenges that the EU transport sector has been facing since the beginning of Russia’s military attack against Ukraine.
Both crises have indeed severely affected the transport of goods and people: the COVID-19 crisis implications for manufacturing, services and supply chains in the single market were heavily defined by devastating disruptions in the transport sector, but the resilience of this sector and the improved coordination between Member States were fundamental for the EU’s response to these challenges. As stated by the European Commission in the conclusions of the Contingency Plan (paragraph 4, pg. 19) “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is deeply affecting the EU transport system. Rising oil and gas prices, broken supply chains, closure of skies and markets, and potential shortages of transport workers add to the existing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the conflict shows that the EU has learnt a lot from the COVID-19 crisis by how quickly it has already responded to the war. The conflict has also highlighted the need to reduce EU’s dependency on the imported fossil fuels”. Another key lesson learned from the pandemic is the importance of coordinating crisis response measures to avoid, for example, situations where trucks, vessels, airplanes and their drivers and essential goods are stuck at borders or at their points of departure, as occurred during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the basis of these assumptions, the Contingency Plan responds to the Council’s call on the Commission to adopt a strategy for the European transport sector for pandemics and other major crises in order to have “the level of preparedness… stepped up”; The Plan delivers on one of the Commission’s commitments in the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy (adopted by the Commission on December 2020) and it has been developed in cooperation with Member State authorities and sector’s representatives during the public consultation held from the 31 August to the 26 October 2021. The Contingency Plan for Transport is aimed to improve the coordination of the policy response, to better prepare the EU transport sector for such events and to keep the single market intact. Consequently, it introduces guiding principles that ensure that crisis response measures are proportionate, transparent, non-discriminatory, in line with the EU Treaties, and able to ensure that the single market keep functioning as it should.
“There is no ready-made solution to address an unpredictable crisis in the future. The best solution is to improve the knowledge of vulnerabilities and risks and mitigate them. This will create and maintain the EU’s capacity to respond in a fast, coordinated and cooperative way with a combination of EU, national and local measures”, the Commission declared (page 20).
The transport contingency principles identified in the Plan (paragraph 3.1, page 10) explain the philosophy applied by the Commission:
- Transparency, communication and dialogue;
- Consistency with EU policy;
- Integrity of the transport system;
- Care for passengers with specific needs;
- Care for transport workers.
Consequently, the Plan proposes a “transport contingency toolbox” of 10 actions to guide the EU and its Member States when introducing emergency crisis-response measures (paragraph 3.2, page 11). Among other actions, the Plan highlights the importance of ensuring minimum connectivity and passenger protection, building resilience to cyberattacks, and resilience testing. It also stresses the relevance of the Green Lanes principles, which ensure that land freight can cross borders in less than 15 minutes and reinforces the role of the Network of Contact Points in national transport authorities.
The 10 areas of action learned from the recent crisis have been defined as:
- Making EU transport laws fit for crisis situations;
- Ensuring adequate support for the transport sector;
- Ensuring free movement of goods, services and people;
- Managing refugee flows and repatriating stranded passengers and transport workers;
- Ensuring minimum connectivity and passenger protection;
- Sharing transport information;
- Strengthening transport policy coordination;
- Strengthening cybersecurity;
- Testing transport contingency;
- Cooperation with international partners;
The closing remarks wrote by the European Commission are crucial to achieve the main scope of stepping up the level of common preparedness:
- “It is essential that Member States apply the contingency principles and make full use of the Commission’s contingency toolbox, matching the different tools to the specific problems to be addressed”;
- “The Commission will support Member States to improve their crisis preparedness”;
- “The Commission calls on Parliament and the Council for their full engagement in the legislative work to modernise and strengthen the EU transport sector’s resilience”.