Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Monday, 14 November 2011

MEPs split over rail liberalisation laws

Proposals to increase the liberalisation and privatisation of the railway network across the EU have divided MEPs.

On 14 November 2011, MEPs debated a draft proposal, published by the Commission in September 2010, to strengthen and merge existing directives into a single piece of legislation known as the single European railway area.

Under the plans, there will be better cross-border connections and more funding for major infrastructure projects.

The Commission hopes to end the protectionist nature of the railway industry in certain countries - notably France - and increase the number of private and independent operators.

Opening the debate, Italian social democrat MEP Debra Serracchiani - speaking on behalf of the Transport Committee - welcomed the proposals, especially the recommendation for each country to set up an independent railway regulator to stop market distortion and anti-competitive measures.

She also backed an amendment by the committee that would reject any move towards an obligatory minimum service on the railway network, fearing that this could impinge on workers' rights.

This amendment was opposed by Dutch conservative MEP Peter Van Dalen who said it was a "protectionist" move that would "curtail the future of rail transport".

Spanish liberal MEP Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, gave his backing to the creation of an independent regulator. He said it was "not about creating new bureaucracy", and that the regulator would only intervene "where the national regulator isn't doing his job properly".

Slow progress

However German communist MEP Sabine Wills criticised the legislative package.

"We can see in the UK how privatisation isn't the route to take", she told MEPs.

She said that the GUE group was "on the side of the trade unions, and in favour of integrated companies in public hands".

Compulsory liberalisation of the EU railway network started in 2001, although progress has varied enormously between different countries, and Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas lamented the slow process of opening up the railway markets.

If the first reading position is approved by MEPs at the voting session from 11am on 16 November 2011, the draft proposal will go to the Council of Ministers who are expected to vote on the package in December 2011.

Read Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work here.

The European Parliament's disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations can be found here.

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