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Transport and energy Commissioner first heard by Parliament

Loyola de Palacio, former Spanish Agriculture Minister and now Commissioner-designate for transport, energy, and relations with the Parliament, was the first of the 19 Commissioners-designate to appear (on 30 August 1999) before the European Parliament's committees in hearings...
Loyola de Palacio, former Spanish Agriculture Minister and now Commissioner-designate for transport, energy, and relations with the Parliament, was the first of the 19 Commissioners-designate to appear (on 30 August 1999) before the European Parliament's committees in hearings prior to the Parliament's vote of approval of the new Commission. Inevitably, given the planned political role she will play, much of the hearing focused on her intentions for informing Parliament and involving it in EU activities, in which field she emphasised that she favoured much closer cooperation between Parliament and the Commission.

Nevertheless, she also offered some insights into her plans for transport and energy policy. Key transport priorities over her five-year term of office will include the revitalisation of railways in the EU, improving integration between different modes of transport, reducing delays in air transport, and improving road safety. She will also aim to complete the revision of the trans-European transport networks (TENs) guidelines, and progress the development of the Galileo satellite navigation system.

Responding to a question on how the competitiveness of European railways could be improved, she stated that liberalisation should be continued, and underlined the need for quality of service to be improved. Railways would soon have a 30% share of the EU transport market, and are a key element in both freight and passenger transport. She agreed that there is an urgent need for the EU to help improve the railway systems of the Central and Eastern European countries, given the alarming decline in rail transport in these countries.

On the energy side, security of supply is one of her main concerns, given the EU's increasing dependence on external sources (projected to rise from the current 50% to 70% by 2020). The continuing development of liberalisation in European energy markets is another priority, although both questions will be considered in the light of the EU's commitments made in Kyoto to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Asked for her personal view of nuclear energy, de Palacio responded that meeting the Kyoto commitments would not be possible without nuclear energy, and furthermore, closing down nuclear energy plants would be expensive and take a long time. That said, decisions on withdrawing from nuclear power are for the Member States to make, which she said was clearly set out in the Treaties. She agreed with another questioner that safety standards in some nuclear plants outside the EU's borders were not at the same level as those in the EU. Finally, she also agreed that renewable energy should be promoted throughout the EU.

The other Commissioners-designate are also appearing before the Parliament in the first week of September. The full Parliament is due to vote on the approval of the new Commission on 15 September, following the presentation by President-designate Romano Prodi of his proposed work programme on 14 September. It should be noted that the Parliament may only approve the Commission as a whole and cannot formally vote on individuals.

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