January 21, 2010
If you want an illustration of how bad the news reporting of Europe is in some parts of the British press, look at page 5 of the Daily Express today. (Or read it online here: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/153073/Europe-plots-green-blitz-on-British-roads.) The claims made about European transport policy are simply false.
Let’s start with the opening sentence: “Brussels bureaucrats want to slap draconian European Union driving laws on Britain’s roads in a new “green” campaign on motorists, it emerged last night.”
First off, the “Action Plan on urban mobility”, which is the ostensible basis of this story, was adopted by the European Commission on 30 September 2009, with a press release issued the same day, so the statement that plans “emerged last night” is untrue. Am I going to be charitable and allow for the possibility that, even if the information was in theory available last autumn, in practice it was hard to find? No, I am not: a journalist writing for a national newspaper ought to be capable of checking with publicly available sources before writing such statements.
Next, there is the thrust of the story, that the Commission wants to “slap draconian European Union driving laws on Britain’s roads”. The right to make laws regarding driving rests not with the Commission but with the member states, a fact of which the Commission is well aware. The Action Plan outlines that “The Commission offers a partnership to local, regional and national authorities based on their voluntary commitment to co-operate in selected areas of mutual concern.” So, there is no slapping of anything going on (except perhaps metaphorically the faces of the people who wrote this rubbish in the newspaper).
In fact, the approach adopted by the Commission is entirely the opposite:
“In general local authorities are themselves best placed to define and implement urban mobility policies adapted to local circumstances. But they face common problems. The EU can support them and enable and encourage the development of a new culture for urban mobility in Europe, without prescribing one-size-fits-all or top-down solutions.”
And what are the issues that the Commission is looking at in this Action Plan? There are twenty issues, including:
• providing information to passengers who use public transport systems; and to local authorities on funding opportunities, procurement rules and state aid restrictions
• increasing access to mobility impaired passengers, for example; and ensuring the rights of all passengers, including mechanisms for making complaints
• improving energy efficiency in public transport systems and in driving
• reducing the environmental impact of transport by promoting the use of zero and low emission vehicles, and by minimising the impact of freight transport in urban areas.
I repeat, the take-up of any of this is entirely voluntary on the part of national, regional or local governments. The European Commission is making good ideas available: who can complain about that?
The Daily Express goes on to say that “the blueprint provoked widespread fury among MPs, motoring organisations and campaigners against EU bureaucracy last night.” Here is what they said:
Keith Peat, of the Association of British Drivers, said: “Giving un-elected bureaucrats in Brussels control over British roads would be disastrous, not just for safety but also for the country’s economy.”
Mr Peat can be reassured that the Action Plan does not propose giving up control of British roads. (Note those weasel words “would be”. Any news story can be complemented by the statement that an outrageous proposal “would be” bad: as in this case, the proposal does not have to be contained in the initial story but if it is close enough in subject matter, a confused or inattentive reader (or journalist) might not notice the difference, and be left with a false and negative impression of the original story.)
Mats Persson, of the Euro-sceptic think tank Open Europe, commented: “This illustrates that the EU simply can’t stop interfering in every aspect of people’s lives.” In what way is providing information about energy efficiency, which local authorities may or may not use as they see fit, interfering? Normally, Open Europe criticises the EU for not being flexible enough: they want an à la carte Europe where member states can pick and choose which policies they take part in. On this occasion, what is on offer is exactly that – an à la carte approach to urban transport policy – and Open Europe is still complaining. One might start to doubt the sincerity of Open Europe’s claims not to be against the EU as such …
Lastly, Tory frontbencher Theresa Villiers, Shadow Transport Secretary, has been conned into being presented as a critic of the Action Plan. She said “To improve our roads and tackle driver hassle, we need more local decision making, not one-size-fits-all diktats from Brussels,” which is of course exactly what the Action Plan offers.
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You can read about the Action Plan on urban mobility here: http://ec.europa.eu/transport/urban/urban_mobility/action_plan_en.htmAuthor : European Movement UK