Commissioner Dr. Janez Potočnik
Transport Research Arena - Opening Ceremony
Ljubljana - 21 April 2008
Minister Žerjav, ladies and gentlemen,
My thanks go to all of you for coming together to participate in the Transport Research Arena 2008.
I'd like to express my appreciation to the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC) and the Conference of European Directors of Roads, for co-organising this event with the European Commission. A special mention is due to the local organising committee and the Ministry of Transport of Slovenia for supporting and hosting this meeting.
As far as I am concerned, this gathering has one main purpose: to strengthen our cooperation on road transport research.
The importance of this goal is hard to exaggerate. We need an integrated approach — through technology, through innovation and through regulation — and this is only possible by bringing together representatives from the research community, from industry and from policy-making institutions.
For centuries, innovations in transport of all kinds have been accompanied by increased prosperity. Over the last fifty years, as we have built the European Union, the increasing mobility of people and goods has boosted the development of the internal market. It has also played an essential role in our economic, social and regional cohesion. In short, our society has been transformed and our lifestyles have become dependent on effective mobility, including by road.
Transport by road represents a major source of industrial activity, economic revenue, employment and technological development in Europe. In securing millions of jobs in Europe and providing exports to global markets, it is a major economic pillar for the achievement of the Lisbon Strategy. Yet the competitive pressures in the sector are intense, with the advent of the € 1,700 car, rising on prices, and global sourcing of parts.
The European agenda for growth and jobs — the Lisbon Strategy - is about remaining globally competitive in this context, about improving our quality of life, but in a sustainable fashion. We want to boost growth and jobs by turning ourselves into a knowledge-based economy, but we also need to address the global challenges related to energy and climate change.
This tension between the opportunities and challenges of globalisation for Europe is clear in the field of road transport. The constant growth in the demand for transport by road is a sign of our increasing wealth desire for and mobility. However, we are all aware of the unfortunate — even tragic -side effects.
Despite Europe's pledge in 2001 to cut Europe's 57,000 traffic fatalities by 50% by 2010, today more than 40,000 still meet their end on Europe's roads in car accidents every year. That's the equivalent of five medium-sized airliners crashing every week!
Congestion and air pollution is growing in our cities. The impact on the environment and available energy sources are also forcing us to respond. In March last year, the EU announced the "three 20s" targets:
- To reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 20%;
- To consume 20% of our energy from renewable sources; and
- To increase energy efficiency by 20%, by the year 2020.
In the realm of road transport we are committed to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars to 120 grams per km by 2012 — a reduction of around 25% from current levels. This is the most ambitious approach worldwide to developing a low-carbon economy. It underlines the EU's commitment to meeting its Kyoto Protocol targets.
These are all tough targets - fulfilling our objectives on road safety, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and meeting our climate change commitments. Each of these will need all the commitment and ingenuity that we can bring to them. But these targets are also within reach; and I believe they can be achieved while maintaining, and even improving Europe's competitiveness.
This is, of course, where research and innovation come into play. Our economy needs to be led by research and development and we must push forward with innovation
To my mind, making the European — and global — transport industry greener, safer and smarter is firmly linked to industrial competitiveness. The two goals are complementary. As environmental friendliness becomes an increasing criterion of consumer choice, the road vehicles of the future will need to be green in order to succeed. At the same time, the incorporation of the available new technologies on an industrial scale will lead to decreasing costs and increasing productivity.
Europe is in the lead. Our motor vehicle and parts sector already invests more in research than any other European industrial sector. National research programmes are addressing relevant technologies, such as alternative fuels and hydrogen and fuels cells. And the European Commission is right up there too, investing over 4 billion euros in transport-related research over the seven years of the current Research Framework Programme.
Do we have all the funding that we need? No, almost certainly not. But can we be more effective with the resources that we have? Yes, I am absolutely certain of it.
Our objectives for sustainable road transport are ambitious. But with effective coordination, we the stakeholders represented here today can make them a reality.
A systemic approach is necessary to solve this problem; an approach that links vehicles, infrastructure and users, as well as user interactions. This is the approach the European Commission favours for road transport research.
This means maximising the capacity of road transport infrastructure, improving links between different transport modes, optimising traffic flows, integrating safety solutions, and developing new intelligent mobility systems for urban environments. We need to encourage the integration of transport modes in order to develop a seamless web of integrated transport chains, linking road, rail and waterways.
The European Union is now making considerable efforts to break down existing barriers between transport modes in this way. We believe that such integration will lead to improved flexibility, quality, and cost effectiveness of transport for our citizens, and will stimulate competition between transporters instead of between transport modes.
Still, a range of obstacles stands in the path of optimum use of all existing infrastructure. I call on you gathered here today to take on a 'transport systems' perspective that considers the interactions of vehicles, transport infrastructures, and transport services, in a holistic way.
I believe this 'systems approach' is best undertaken through collaborative research across national borders. As research and development costs continue to rise, collaborative activity at EU level is essential to enable a 'critical mass' of researchers to address pressing multi-disciplinary challenges in a cost-effective way.
Every one of you in this room today is a partner in this system. You are the carmakers. You are the researchers. You are the road infrastructure managers. You are the elected officials searching for the most sustainable road transport solutions for your cities and regions.
Whether a manager, an expert, a legislator or a lobbyist: we are certainly all users. And we can all be visionaries for a state-of-the-art European road transport system.
Here and now in Ljubljana we have the chance to exchange views and to establish with our partners what each of us — researchers, industry, policymakers - needs from the others:
Researchers need to know what the long-term strategy for transport, to determine what research is needed for a greener road transport system. In turn they can provide insights on the most promising technologies, their costs and likely timing of development.
Industry wants answers to the question of what technologies might be available, and when? They also need to know under what policy environment they are likely to be operating in the longer term.
Policy makers need to know your concerns and your constraints as industry and researchers.
This conference is an ideal opportunity to create a true "European Road Transport Research Arena". We have a forum to promote all our road transport research efforts, to pool our potential and to act as a reference point for European research excellence in transport.
By helping to coordinate research activities, programmes and policies across Europe, it will bring closer the fulfilment of the European Research Area.
I am pleased to say that the ERA has become the key reference for research policy in Europe and is gaining in stature as a key policy driver. The new reform EU treaty — if it is ratified — will legally enshrine our goal to achieve a common area of research for Europe.
The road transport research community is a group of stakeholders that has done a great deal to promote the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital within the EU. You are about to make a further contribution. By pooling your potential you will help to create a "fifth freedom" in the European Union: the freedom of knowledge.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A Europe of many cultures, traditions and languages comes together today to form a single vision for a European road transport system of the future. At TRA 2008 in Ljubljana, a group of many talents in academia, business and government will pool their potential.
Through your efforts, road transport in Europe will be more competitive, efficient and sustainable
Through your efforts:-
We will enhance vehicle and road safety and save precious lives;
We will move from a high carbon closer to a low carbon economy; and
We deliver Europe from a resource-based to a knowledge-based society.
Through your efforts, the European road transport system will be cleaner, safer and smarter - a system to be proud of.