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European integration by train

Dorian Feron

Investment Manager at the Federal Holding and Investment Company (SFPI-FPIM) and member of the Friday Group

In January 2024, Belgium will become President of the Council of the European Union. For six months, our country will be able to set priorities at European level. This summer, the Friday Group proposes to address certain subjects which, in our opinion, deserve a place of choice within this agenda. Today: the creation of a single railway area.

The last Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) dates back to July 2010. At the time, the resigning government of Yves Leterme took over the presidency in a gloomy political context which will lead to the sad record of 541 days without a government.

The Friday Group

Through analyzes and strategic studies, the Friday Group, which brings together young Belgian talents (from 25 to 35 years old), wants to enrich public and political debate with new but realistic ideas. It is supported by the King Baudouin Foundation.

Although a lot of water has flowed under the Senne since then, the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU from 1er January 2024 risk of start in a similar context. Indeed, the year 2024 foresees legislative elections right in the middle of the Belgian presidency, which is very likely to reopen the institutional pandora’s box.

Paradoxically, the presidency of the government of Yves Leterme had been hailed, because the current affairs government had offered the Belgian ministers total availability for European issues. Above all, the practical aspects of the Belgian presidency, such as the agenda, the budgets or the logistics had been agreed well before the fall of the government. It is up to the current government to do the same and propose an ambitious program.

Continue to travel in Europe, but otherwise

Making the European Union more attractive and closer to our fellow citizens requires the implementation of tangible policies. One of the sectors where Europeans expect concrete and effective policies is the intra-european mobility. In fact, thanks to the program Erasmus and the development of low cost airlines, many of us have been accustomed to discovering the many wonders of our continent. It would be a shame to give it up because these movements of people nourish the European idea, arouse curiosity and make it possible to confront other cultures.

The train, and in particular the night train, must become a new cornerstone of European integration.

However, many today wish adapt the way they travel, by limiting or even eliminating the use of planes. However, few succeed, for lack of an alternative or affordable price. The Belgian presidency must tackle this subject head-on. The train, and in particular the night train, must become a new cornerstone of European integration.

The train as a vector of integration

While short flights alone emit 3% of EU carbon emissions, the train carries less than 8% of passengers in Europe.

Dorian Ferron.

Paradoxically, an ambitious network of night trains existed until the turn of the century, with trains connecting the main European capitals. A combination of two factors has (nearly) put an end to this: low cost airlines have slashed prices and the liberalization of rail has forced commercial rail companies to pay a track access fee.

In addition, harmonization of the rail sector in the Union is made difficult by the fragmentation of European railways into autonomous national systems and by the lack of efficiency and flexibility.

The Belgian Presidency must build the foundations of a single railway area.

The Belgian presidency must build the foundations of a single railway area, a concept that dates back more than 30 years and which has been slow to materialize despite several packages of railway legislation since 2001. In order to make possible the wish of Europeans, and particularly of the younger generations, to travel within the Union while polluting less, it is necessary work on three pillars: the financing and pricing of infrastructure, obstacles to competition, and the adaptation of regulations on signaling and traffic management. It also requires review the conditions of equality with other transport according to the polluter/pays principle.

Pioneering Belgium

Belgium was a pioneer of rail transport in Europe with, on May 5, 1835, the first three steam trains on the continent connecting Brussels to Mechelen. “Everything has to change so that nothing changes”, teaches us Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in “The Cheetah”. so that nothing changes, Belgium must become the linchpin of intra-European transport by train. Belgium and the Union would gain in popularity.

By Dorian FeronInvestment Manager at the Federal Holding and Investment Company (SFPI-FPIM) and member of the Friday Group.

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