The highly Liberal Siim Kallas will cede his post to Social Democrat Maros Sefcovic. How will this affect the dossiers concerned?
Maros Sefcovic, the new commissioner for transport and space, will hardly have time to take up his post before getting stuck into the two ‘hot’ dossiers of the autumn: the fourth railway package and the single sky.
If Juncker’s team enters into office on 1 November as planned, Sefcovic will go to Rome six or seven days later for a ministerial meeting on the single sky, where he will have to deal with member states, which are very reticent on the dossier. Ditto for rail: the Italian Presidency launched discussions on the political elements of the package – concerning competition – and discussions are proving very complicated.
How will Sefcovic’s team deal with the dossier? The fact that it is explicitly mentioned in Jean-Claude Juncker’s mission letter – as is single sky – is a relief for the sector, considering Luxembourg’s reticence on the political and technical aspects of rail reform. As for Slovakia’s approach: this will be interesting to analyse. “We presented a Czech, Liberal candidate for transport, and we have a Social Democrat. He will be no doubt less concerned by liberal measures than competition at any price,” says an expert.
Regarding the fourth railway package, Sefcovic will have to proceed alongside the legacy of the highly Liberal Kallas - since the current Commission has been careful to consolidate its position by publishing its opinion on the EP’s amendments on 10 September. Over time, this will also have an impact on the majorities at the Council, in the sense that member states will now have to rule unanimously on amendments which have been the subject of a negative opinion…like those which the Commission considers will damage competition.
Sefcovic’s political colours could also affect other ‘hot’ dossiers; for example, the liberalisation of road cabotage, which Kallas wants, and the fight against social dumping in road transport. Member states have called for Commission initiatives in these areas, and it is possible that Sefcovic’s approach will be different to Kallas’. On the other hand, his nationality could also affect his dossiers (Slovakia is rather favourable to liberalising cabotage).
Another example is employment conditions in the aviation sector. Just before the summer holidays, the Netherlands called for a European debate on the emergence of new ‘business models’ for airlines, which are based on employing staff from third countries. This call came after the Norwegian Air case. Once again, Sefcovic could prove more sensitive to social arguments than his predecessor.
What does the chair of the EP's Committee on Transport think of Sefcovic’s appointment? The two men do not know each other, but Michael Cramer (Greens-EFA, Germany) told Europolitics that Sefcovic is "a good choice" since he “already has a lot of experience at European level.” Also, in 2010, Slovakia installed toll booths on its highways and express routes, while significantly reducing fees for access to rail infrastructure. “It would be good if he could transfer this system to Europe,” says Cramer - the great defender of the railway cause. No doubt he will also suggest it to Sefcovic.