Special statement on the EU Commission’s revised Interpretative Guidelines for public service obligations in land transport

On 22nd June 2023, the EU Commission published its final notice on revised Interpretative guidelines concerning Regulation (EC) 1370/2007 on public passenger transport services by rail and by road.

Since the previous Interpretative Guidelines from 2014, there have been significant changes: the EU Fourth Railway Package was adopted, the Court of Justice of the European Union interpreted certain provisions of Regulation (EC) 1370/2007, and rules applicable to the Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI) – notably the very relevant SNCM case – were adopted.

The Member States were supposed to gradually open the passenger rail market – from the next year, tendering is supposed to be the only option for selection of the operator (with a few exemptions to be used in limited, well-defined circumstances). An increasing number of non-state incumbent operators are emerging on the national and cross-border market. Entering into 2024 with revised Interpretative Guidelines was both logical and necessary.

The Revised Interpretative Guidelines do not create any new rule. They improve legal certainty for all actors by applying the EU legal framework we already have in one document. Thanks to the revised Interpretative Guidelines, Members States and railway operators now have:
1) More certainty in the process of concluding contracts and determination of compensation for Public Service Obligations (PSOs),
2) Stricter conditions for hybrid services, and
3) Clearer rules that are applicable to staff protection when there is a change of public transport operator following the award of a new contract.

Recent years have definitely shown that more clarity is needed to make the process as smooth and fast as possible, in order to fulfil the EU Green Deal’s objectives and to truly move “modal shift to rail” away from fancy titles to something that is real.

Therefore, ALLRAIL supports the new Interpretative Guidelines. If others are criticising them with baseless accusations that Regulation (EC) 1370/2007 is being amended and that there are “problems of legal uncertainty”, then this is because the revised Interpretative Guidelines have followed changes in the EU framework (namely: the Fourth Railway Package and EU case law).

If such voices are unhappy with the EU Fourth Railway Package and the EU court rulings, then clearly they will never be happy with the revised Guidelines either, but there is nothing to object to concerning the EU Commission or the Commission’s work on the Guidelines.