Until the end of the 1980s, the European achievements in the transport sector did not measure up to the clear need for a policy expressly mentioned in the Treaty of Rome as a crucial cornerstone of the common market. In fact, during thirty years the Member States rejected measures of liberalisation proposed by the Commission which, they maintained, would upset competition conditions, both between the various modes of transport and within each one of them. Council deliberations revolved around the sophistic question of whether market liberalisation or harmonisation of competition conditions should come first. The Council's failure to act, forcefully pointed out by the European Parliament in its 1982 resolution [see section 20.2.1], was chiefly due to an absence of political commitment to pushing economic integration in this field. Whether under pressure from the European Parliament and public opinion or the need to integrate transport into the post-1992 single market, transport policy stepped on the accelerator in the middle of the 1980s, particularly in three fields: road haulage, maritime transport and air transport.
The greatest breakthrough for the common transport policy has undoubtedly been in the area of liberalising international road haulage services. All the quotas applicable to cross-border transport within the European Community/Union were replaced by a system of European licences issued on the basis of qualitative criteria. The fact that the liberalisation introduced gradually since the early 1990s has not upset the road haulage market, shows that the fears of some national administrations of the common transport market upsetting their national markets were exaggerated.
In the area of maritime transport, which is the carrier for 85% of the EEC's external trade, the Member States undertook to apply the rules of free competition and the principle of free provision of services to this sector. They also agreed to fight unfair tariff practices and unsafe seafaring methods, while guaranteeing free access to ocean trades and even to cabotage. All cabotage services in Europe have been liberalised between January 1999 and December 2002. The market has not been adversely affected. Cargo volumes and the number of passengers transported have remained relatively stable.
As regards air transport, the liberalisation measures completed in 1992 have had a major impact on competition between air carriers. Additional routes were opened, new services were introduced, monopolies were put under pressure, inefficient national companies were forced to modernise or close down and new companies were created. Nevertheless, basic fares are still too high if compared to those in other regions of the world, especially the United States. The costs of air transport remain high, largely because of heavy infrastructure charges and airport fees. However, the main concern for the future is the saturation of the European airports and air corridors, due to substantial increase in air traffic. To meet this challenge, air safety should be enhanced through the creation of a European aviation safety authority.
In general, the European Union must find the answer to several challenges in the field of transport. In particular, it must face the problems caused by the saturation of existing networks, the uneven modal split and increasing pollution caused by most means of transport. At the same time, transport liberalisation involving the arrival of new entrants and greater competition between operators, engenders important structural changes, technical innovations and new investments; all, certainly, good developments, but which need to be coordinated at European level. To answer these challenges the EU should adopt an overall approach aiming at: improving the infrastructure; rationalising the use of the means of transport; enhancing the safety of users; achieving more equitable working conditions; and protecting the environment.