On the invitation of the Office for a Democratic Belarus in Brussels, Belgium and the Foundation for Legal Technologies Development (Ukraine), a group of Belarusian experts on Transport and Transit visited Brussels on September 29 – October 2, 2009. The Belarusian delegation, which included representatives from government institutions, media and research group, took part in a training course “EU Transport Policy: Sharing Knowledge with Belarus”.
In the framework of the course, Belarusian delegates had a chance to get acquainted with the work of the EU institutions and meet with the key experts from the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, working on the region and the transport policy.
Topics that were covered as part of the programme included Urban Transport, Trans-European Network, and Policy Coordination and Planning for International Transport.
Mr. Marcel Rommerts from the European Commission (DG TREN), who held a meeting on Urban Transport, is one of the co-authors of the EU “Action Plan for Urban Transport”, which was adopted just on the morning of the meeting. The expert gave the delegation an overview of how the document, which now consists of 20 actions to be taken towards better urban mobility, was constructed. The Delegation from Belarus asked questions related to the new White Paper concerning passenger rights that will be issued in the near future. EU expert informed the group about another document called “Future of Transport” which will be released next year and is serving as a basis for the next White Paper on Transport. A lively discussion also took place on the problem of private and public ownership in Transport system.
Mr. Alain Baron from DG-TREN, department of International Relations of Transport and Coordination of International Transportation, stressed that the goal of Trans-European Network is to create a smooth transport network, to eliminate boundaries, where there will be no obstacles and no isolated places. He also emphasized that Belarus is very important on regards of Berlin-Moscow route and that there will be Memorandum of Understanding to be signed next month to coordinate work with Belarus, Russia and Norway. He also highlighted the fact that EU is constantly looking for alternative transport options and there still is a need to increase cooperation between Member States. Shortage of financial resources is an additional problem to be solved. For that reason, if a coordinator was to be appointed for Belarus in the future, s/he would first need to find one coherent priority and then to see what finances are available. For the moment, EU first plans to appoint a coordinator for the Balkans, and then in following months or max. couple of years to appoint one for Belarus.
At the meeting with Stefan Gewaltig from the Policy Coordination and Planning department of the DG TREN, the delegation had an opportunity to get an overview of the importance of transport in the EU. Mr Gewaltig underlined that bringing out that market opening, infrastructure policy, transport safety, re-enforcement of security policy, strengthening passenger rights and last but not least – making the transport sector more sustainable and energy efficient, remain the biggest challenges to overcome. Experts from Belarus were interested to hear if, in his view, privatisation would bring better efficiency in the transport sector. EU expert responded that it is not always so, that there are still state-owned transport systems and it works, However, in his view, once the companies are privatized, they can be more efficient because there are no more restrictions of public administration, and that they can introduce more policies.
The group also asked about which Member States have done well overcoming from totally state-owned to capitalized transport systems. Mr. Gewaltig explained that he is not in the place to give specific answers but he can bring broader examples saying that some of the formerly state-owned transport companies such as Lufthansa, British Airways and SAS from aviation sector and Deutsche Bahn from railway sector are s good examples of companies which overcame the challenge well. He also added that the challenge to liberalize railway sector is the most difficult because of "the mentality of the railway world” since it has always been known as a state-owned sector. In addition, it is so because of the financing issue since for the rail to be competitive with other transport systems (aviation, freight, maritime)the whole complex needs to be replaced or modernized.
The given visit is part of a larger programme for Belarusian experts, which is being implemented by the Office for a Democratic Belarus in cooperation with the Foundation for Legal Technologies Development and supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Topics for next seminars in Brussels include scientific cooperation and education. Candidates for participation in the programme are selected through an open call for applications. The organisers welcome participation of experts from both civil society groups and government-affiliated structures.