EU Transport Policies

The EU shares competence in transport with the member states. The EU’s powers and competences are defined by the Treaty. As in other areas, there is a certain extent to which once the EU legislates and acts, the states may no longer act inconsistently with the EU regime.

The common transport policy focuses on a number of areas including

  • a Trans-European Transport Network connecting national networks together
  • dealing with certain external issues collectively at the international level
  • operation of a single market in transport services to facilitate the free movement of goods services and people
  • promotion of high safety security of passengers and worker’s rights
  • ensuring that transport does not impact negatively on the environment.

The transport provisions are contained in Articles 96 to 100 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The UK had been a leading advocate for the development of the single market in transport across all modes in the EU. It had generally found itself allied with the Commission in promoting liberal market-based aviation and maritime sectors. The deregulation of the domestic rail sector in the UK was seen as an EU model.

The regulation of state aid under EU law is important in several aspects of transport, particularly aviation and maritime. It may enable maintenance of routes that would not otherwise be commercially viable. It is likely that any transport agreement with the EU after Brexit may entail restriction or regulation of state aid in the same manner as EU state aid legislation.

Swiss Model

The EEA Countries adopt the internal market including coverage of all modes of transport. Switzerland, which is not a member of the EEA but has a series of bilateral agreements with the EU on many areas. It has entered a number of bilateral agreements in relation to transport. These may represent precedents or of models for future post-Brexit UK relationship with the EU on transport matters.

The EU-Swiss air transport agreement provides for following

  • Prohibition of state aid other than in limited circumstances
  • Grant of traffic rights for Swiss and EU carriers on their territory.

Swiss carriers will also have traffic rights between EU states.

There is a joint committee of the parties to administer the agreement and manage its implementation. It has various powers with regard to dispute resolution. It consults on various matters. The agreement lists EU legislation which should also apply to Switzerland in the same manner as other states. This includes all main liberalisation and compensation provisions.

Swiss providers do not have the same degree of access as EU carriers, as they do not have cabotage rights;  the relevant reciprocal rights are yet to be implemented.

The EU-Swiss road and rail agreement 2002 provides common standards for Swiss and EU road hauliers. This includes, in particular, the relevant social and technical standards. There is provision for the carriage of goods across the territories of the EU and Switzerland respectively. However, EU businesses do not have rights in respect of transporting goods between two points within the EU.

The provision on rail commits EU and Switzerland to separate the management of the railway infrastructure from the provision of the railway services and prohibition of aid between the two.

There is provision for coordination of transport policy with the aim of promoting efficiency and environmental protection. Every effort is to be made to create broadly comparable transport conditions including tax arrangements in the respective territories.

There is a joint committee comprised of representatives of the UK and Switzerland which manages the agreement. It has various powers regarding dispute resolution between the parties. It has consultative functions.

The annexes to the agreement list the EU legislation that is to apply in Switzerland in the same way as in a member state.


The European Railway Agency was established with the objective of developing a common approach to safety on the railway system. There is a common regulatory framework for harmonising safety standards and requirements. There are harmonised certificates.

There are provisions which seek to open the international rail freight market. There is a required separation between bodies responsible for managing the infrastructure and operating the service. There are common criteria for grant of a passenger operators license on the European rail network and designate an independent body for issuing licenses.

In the UK, rail services are operated by a privately-owned operating company. The infrastructure is owned and maintained by Network Rail. Network Rail is regulated by the Office of Rail and Road.

Railway stations are owned by or leased to operating companies that are the principal users. EU laws require that EU nationals and entities may bid and compete on commercially viable networks. It was contemplated that by 2026 private companies would be able to bid for public service contracts on lines that are not profitable. Most rail lines across the EU are operated on public service contract terms. The operator is usually the incumbent and it is given compensation and granted exclusive rights.


The European Economic Area Agreement extends the EU internal market relating to road transport to Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. There are separate agreements with Switzerland. Driver licensing and testing is based on EU law.

There are common rules on access to the road haulage and passenger markets. States licence providers under common EU based rules. An entity with the EU authorisation may provide services in other EU states, subject to conditions and limits.

There are common technical requirements for construction maintenance and operation of road vehicles. The common standards replace numerous local technical standards with a single standard.

Most new vehicle standards are derived from international standards bodies and absorbed into EU law. It is likely that the UK will need to replicate the same international standards as the EU.

EU  Legislation seeks to harmonise vehicle registration systems to secure that vehicles meet the relevant approval types before being put on the road. There is a directive on common measures for the maintenance of vehicles used in international transport.

An EU directive places requirements on states in relation to safety audits, road safety assessments of new road schemes.

States must use a certification process to demonstrate the necessary competence and training of road safety auditors. There are requirements for the exchange of information on road safety related traffic offences.

There are limits on driving times in the road transport sector. Tachographs are required to record hours of driving. There are provisions for qualification and training of drivers.

There have been common minimum EU wide standards for driver tests for almost 30 years. There was a common form of EU driver’s license, common standards and fitness to drive.

There is a common format of license and categories together with common standards for competence and fitness to drive. HGV and bus drivers are required to undertake tests and training under common EU legislation.

There is a directive on the mutual recognition of professional driving qualifications. There are common EU  standards on driving licences that facilitate mutual recognition. The directive provides for the content of theory and practical aspects of driving test, how they must be conducted,  categories of vehicles and types of vehicles be presented at the test.

There are rules for rates of vehicle access duties for road use for HGVs. There is a framework for the European electronic interoperability of tolls.

Maritime and Inland Navigation

An EU regulation provides freedom to supply services, competition and free access to the market in sea transport.  A separate directive deals with the freedom to provide services in sea transport between states.  EU nationals and non-EU companies registered in the EU and controlled by EU nationals have the right to carry passengers and goods by sea between any port in the EU and third country ports.  National restrictions reserving rights to home registered ships must be phased out.

An EU regulation grants freedom to provide maritime transport services within a state for EU ship owners and EU registered ships owned by EU nationals.  The ships must comply with the conditions for carrying out cabotage within that state.

Matters of manning are the responsibility of the state of registration or the state in which the cabotage service is performed.  Depending on the nature of the particular service, states may make the right to provide transport services subject to public service obligations in the interest of maintaining adequate cabotage services between mainland and islands and between islands.

Vessels and companies operating in EU Maritime Sector must comply with EU and international IMO standards.

The European maritime safety agency was established by regulation in 2002.  The purpose of the agency is to provide states and Commissions with technical and scientific assistance to ensure proper application of EU legislation in maritime safety, monitor implementation and evaluate effectiveness.

The agency assists the Commission in producing EU legislation on maritime safety and ship pollution.  It refers to international developments in legislation. It assists the Commission in monitoring the overall functioning of EU state control arrangements by undertaking visits.  It provides the Commission with technical assistance and supports it in tasks under EU law.

An EU Regulation provides for measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities from unlawful acts.  The regulation provides for harmonised EU action to monitor enhanced maritime security adopted by the International Maritime Organisation in 2002 which established the International Ship and Port Safety Security Code.  It amended the Safety of Life at Sea Convention.

The regulation transposes part of the Convention on the special measures EU states must communicate to the IMO, the Commission and other states in relation to requested information and measures adopted to enhance maritime security.

There are regulations and directives on inland waterway transport. There is provision for mutual recognition of boatmaster certificates for inland navigation waterways between states. There are common rules for the transport of goods or passengers by inland waterway between states and provides for freedom of establishment of such services.

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