Transport is an important area in promoting not only the concept of a single market and the free movement of people and goods, but is also a critical element of the European economy. Every 10 years the EU renews its Common Transport Policy, the latest issue being published in March 2011. This took the form of a White Paper announced by the EU Commission, for a Single European Transport Area. This aims to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and make more journeys available by rail. It also provides for the use of electric vehicles within cities and advocates for core network airports to be connected to the rail network by 2050, and where possible, inland waterway systems.

The White Paper says that transport and aviation must reduce emissions, especially since transport is the only sector where emissions are still increasing. Certain to cause contention is the provision that will see a reduction of 50% of conventionally fuelled vehicles in city centres by 2030 and a complete ban by 2050.  The idea is to cut reliance on imported oil and help to cut carbon emission by 60%. In addition, the White Paper wants journeys over 186 miles between cities to shift from road to rail.  Other proposals include freight in cities becoming carbon-free by 2030, whilst some road freight would move to rail or water-borne modes.

Although the White Paper is open to discussion, if the proposals become law there will be a profound impact on the European car industry. The UK has rejected the proposal to ban fossil fuel cars from city centres, but clearly the White Paper demonstrates the need to shift travel habits and actively fight climate change. The trend in the UK appears to be towards greater use of rail, with the £17 billion high speed rail link between London and Birmingham being an obvious example. There are also incentives to purchase electrical cars by offering up to a 50% discount to buyers.

Whilst the push towards electric vehicles has been hailed by some as a cure for excess emissions, even without the critical number of charging points there are a number of other hurdles to overcome - including technological developments - before electric vehicles can truly be said to be a viable alternative to fossil fuelled vehicles. Clearly something needs to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the transport sector, but this is sure to be a difficult task in the current economic climate in the Eurozone area.