Impossible! EU’s green plan torn apart as bloc’s embarrassing rail network laid bare

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Brussels has called on member states to reduce short-haul flights across the continent in a bid to limit the air travel sector’s damage on the environment. But the plan may prove too ambitious for the bloc as most countries lack the necessary railway infrastructure to ensure fast and cheap cross-country travel to its citizens.

EU expert Wolfgang Munchau noted: “The end of the short-haul flights is a great ambition, but EU doesn’t have the rail infrastructure to make that possible.

“It takes 8-9 hours to go from Berlin to Vienna.”

The Director of Euro Intelligence wrote: “This week we heard Andreas Scheuer, the German transport minister, announce a cross-border high-speed link to reduce the journey time from Berlin to Vienna.

“The current travel time is almost nine hours. He wants to cut it down to five hours by the year 2030.

“The distance is only 680km – by road – and 524km taking a direct line.

“A French-style TGV could cover such a distance in less than two hours. But that is not going to happen because the German government, unlike the French government, does not have the legal power to expropriate land.

“This is the reason why German rail lines are wiggly, and French rail lines are straight.

“France managed the transition from air to rail a long time ago – and even in France there are still short-haul flights to connect Paris and Nice.

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“The obstacles to do the same at the European level are bigger, and the legal and political scope small.”

He continued: “For professional travellers, a five-hour journey time between the two German-speaking capitals would still be too long. From our experience, the threshold is around 3 hours, give or take an hour. Frankfurt-Paris is 4-5 hours for some 570km.

“The distances between Munich and Milan is only 350km, yet it takes between 8 and 11 hours by train.”

In Spain, airlines decried on Thursday Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s proposal to impose new taxes on air travel.

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The new measures could include a tax on frequent travellers and short-haul flights, as well as the possible prohibition of plane journeys for routes which could be covered in less than 2-1/2 hours by train.

A spokeswoman for the Spanish branch of global airline association ALA told Reuters: “We outright reject a tax on tickets and the elimination of flights shorter than 2.5 hours.

“The first measure will devastate tourism, this country’s principal motor of growth … and the second will displace connecting flights to third countries, while only marginally reducing carbon emissions.”

Airline representatives gathered at the FITUR international tourism trade fair in Madrid expressed similar discontent at what they deemed the “demonisation” of their industry and the travel sector, hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jose Bauza Diaz, coordinator of the European Parliament’s transport and tourism commission said: “Covertly conditioning 14 billion euros in European recovery funds to the imposition of new taxes on aviation doesn’t just penalise the sector, but also the consumer.

“The sector needs help – it’s lost so much, and is among the hardest-hit … despite having democratised travel and boosted local economies.”

The text of the government plan, called Spain 2050, recommends “diminishing the environmental impact of air transport by introducing a frequent traveller tax or establishing taxes on plane tickets according to the proximity of their destination.”

The Spanish government cites the examples of France and the Netherlands, which it says are considering policies such as banning short-haul flights below a certain threshold when train travel is available for the same route.

Noting that air travel only represented 1 percent of the European Union’s carbon emissions, Iberia airline’s commercial director Maria Jesus Lopez-Solas said: “There’s a demonisation of airlines which will penalise the whole value chain.”

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