Should There Be A European „Walking Policy“ ?
How the European Union might use policy and financial tools for a coordination of a European „Walking Policy“
Paper for the Workshop „Transferring walking innovation in the European context“,
WALK21, München, 11.9.2013. This Workshop was led by Rupprect Consulting, Köln/Germany, in context with the TIDE project of the EU (Transport Innovation Deployment for Europe)
By Hans-Jürgen ZAHORKA
1. Nothing in the primary legal sources of the EU – the EU Treaties (Lisbon Treaty) – mentions any „walking policy“. The chapter on EU Transport Policy (art. 80-100 EU-T II [TFEU]) is applicable for road/street, combined, air, rail and inland waterways transport. The EU had and has a lot of activities in international, now also interregional transport covering more than one Member State. If one thinks when EU legislation has started in transport policy, one has to go back to 1957, the founding date of the European Economic Community (EEC). Only in 1985 the Council of Ministers has been driven by a European Court of Justice judgment to make some decisive moves in transport policy, by the European Parliament and the Commission. This was for the European Single Market (i.e. mainly for cross-border transports) from 1.1.1993 which was prepared by many activities from around 1980 on, like the Kangaroo Group of the European Parliament („the Movement for Free Movement“), by the Cecchini assessments on the future Single Market, by the White Book and by approximately 300 legal packages to introduce the Single Market. It is evident that even until the end of the 1990s there was not much preoccupation with the walking part of the population. This was left to the horizon of the local, regional and national governments.
2. In March 2011 a White Paper on Transport Policy was passed on by the European Commission to the other EU institutions; it covered a „Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a Competitive and Resource-Efficient Transport System“ (White Papers/Whitebooks include already decided law announcements, whereas Green Papers/Greenbooks are discussion papers, also for the civil society). For the first time, issues like urban sustainability met the light of official European discussions. There are various legal and other initiatives announced in this White Paper (see „Annex to the White Paper on Transport“), but not directly for walking. However, the requested urban sustainability can also include a general European policy for pedestrians, walkers, which may be expressed in some general clauses. Any detailed provision would collide with the principle of subsidiarity (art. 5 EU-T I and Protocol no. 2; what can be done by the lower levels closer to the citizen should be done there, the remaining questions can be solved by the EU; for this reason e.g the European Parliament refused once to legislate on general speed limits on motorways, this being a matter of the Member States and regions; on the other hand, the EU has the regulation power in monetary issues – like the introduction of the Euro etc.) and therefore with the principle of European federalism – and this has to be understood.
It is interesting that both EU Commission General Directorates (equal to ministries on national level) deal with this subject now – Transport on one hand, as far as walking should be dealt with in cities, Regional Policy on the other, as far as transport safety should be mentioned.
3. However, the EU can serve as „test lab“ for best (or good) practices e.g. in urban sustainability, including pedestrian traffic, and its inter-modular connections (bus, tram, metro, suburb train, car etc.). There are many creative solutions in the cities of 28 countries, but they have to be collected and compiled. This principle of good practices is uncontested in the EU.
There are already many models for urban transport, urban climate policy, urban environment policy etc. in the EU, and some of them have even adopted elements in favour of the walking population. These models are exposed or elaborated in fora, in projects, and with the financial help of the EU and/or national, regional or local institutions they can be diffused in printing, online or as models e.g. for national, regional or local research institutes. Whoever among the city planners wants to have a document or paper can get this. One of the EU projects worth to be mentioned is TIDE – Transport Innovation Deployment for Europe, a FP7 research programme, which is one of the few EU programmes which deals today with walkers, pedestrians as participants in city traffic.
4. A regulation or directive (EU legislation) in this field could be discussed, but: subsidiarity! Therefore it is unlikely that the EU will try to regulate anything on walking in cities in the next years. However, parallel to city tolls which probably will be regulated in principle (e.g. on which legal basis, on which ecological performance of the city, and on which non-discriminatory basis) interventions might be thinkable.
5. Therefore other instruments with legal character are thinkable: Recommendations and Communications (art. 288 EU-T II [TFEU]). They are not legally binding in a direct way, like the laws by the EU legislation (Regulations, Directives). But both may be used e.g. as interpretation tool for courts, incl. the European Court of Justice. This, in the case of Communications, is for instance a common use in EU company law when it concerns public tenders etc.
6. In the context of working with the EU as „test lab“, in 1994 there was an international conference between local and regional administrations, universities, town and traffic planners etc., in Brescia/Italy, whose results were later forwarded in several languages and 388 pages to the interested public, under the title „Living and Walking in Cities – Town planning and infrastructure project for safety in city life“. This book can be downloaded in the Internet, and it was published by the Office for Official Publications of the EU in Luxembourg. It was the first appearance of the EU in the field of „walking policy“.
7. To make the subject more popular, I suggest
• the EU should examine general criteria for reports on local level – with explicit cooperation by civil society (associations, schools, citizens asked for by administrations, police, etc.), in the sense of a compilation of examples and proposals, and in the framework of participative democracy. A suchlike report could be displayed by a formal Recommendation or Communication (art. 288 TFEU). The objective of this report can be public consciousness, working with good practices, making use of the creativity of the citizens. There are already excellent reports on national levels, for example in Norway but also in Germany. The first approaches have been included in a EU Informal Council of Transport Infrastructure Ministers in Leipzig/Germany, in 2007.
• And whoever fulfils as a local government certain criteria, should obtain a EU certification. Even thinking and re-discussing periodically elements of a walking policy in a city council – this is what cities should be measured of, and why they can later hold a certificate of a „European Walking Space“ or similar.
• Furthermore, to overcome the lack of data, EUROSTAT (the Statistical Office of the EU Commission in Luxemburg) should include into their collections those data which have been compiled by the international walkers‘ scene
• Besides these spontaneous remarks and in this context, the initiative of the EU Commission for a SUMP (Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning) has to be mentioned, which among other issues covers walking as legitimate urban traffic. Climate change aspects, safety in the streets and the framework conditions for the local economy are indeed subjects for the EU – and of course it is good for our European discussion culture if we discuss if this would fall under the subsidiarity principle or not. As long as no concrete intervention into a particular city is carried out, there is no subsidiarity principle violated.
This is visible also in a legislative package which should be drafted ready by the end of this year; it includes three Urban Mobility initiatives on the basis of the White Paper on Transport from 2011, e.g.:
– the set-up of sustainable urban mobility plans which should link EU funds to sustainable urban transport strategies – this will be a big leap indeed,
– a framework for urban road user charging and access restriction zones (I mentioned above e.g. the „city toll“),
– a framework for zero-emission logistics in major urban centres by 2030. The Frankfurt IAA – International Car Exhibition leaves hope that now some producers push the accelerator for the electric car, finally.
8. Also a social argument must be mentioned: In today’s society more and more citizens above all in hectic cities prefer at least sometimes to „de-accelerate“ their life, go slow and get more local impressions, live according the principles of „high tech – hi touch“, of „Small is Beautiful“. Together with new ways like urban gardening, active involvement in historical houses, gardens or corners etc., walking is thought over as an alternative for one’s lifestyle, at least temporarily and regularly, and maybe together with intermodal connections (train/bus, individual (car) traffic). This goes hand in hand with the rapidly increasing phenomenon of carsharing, or hiring publicly available bicycles for a certain period. It has nothing to do with a cartoon person who tries to be alternative and is perhaps from the 1970/1980s. It is just a reaction to a restless life which often is demanded of us, for professional reasons, and it is partly a reaction on our financial and real economy crisis which may force people e.g. to drive back their mobility expenses.
So there is clear tendency or mega trend today, and this trend follows a double strategy – from the grassroots and the cities, from non-governmental organisations, maybe by public-private partnership if e.g. a railway provider offers cars or bicycles to rent – and from „above“, from the EU level where all this must be facilitated and appreciated. This is a challenge to the policy mix and to inter-institutional cooperation in administrations: Traditional transport policy includes now also urban sustainability, together with cross aspects to public health, environment, energy, agricultural, education, language, local government governance etc., and within urban sustainability there should be a locally recognised „walking policy“ as well, together with cross aspects e.g. to city toll, construction policy etc.
9. Already now, in context with the new outspoken „Cities of Tomorrow“ policy by the DG Regional Policy, it is thinkable that there exist first parliamentary questions or motions for a resolution (European Parliament) on walking or traffic safety for walkers etc., or first petitions by (walking) EU citizens who can feed in their problems since many decades in the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions.
The European Parliament is to be identified as the natural ally of every European pedestrian or walker, as it is highly sensible for the interests of the ecological and healthy, but also of the weaker parts in traffic – and pedestrians are always weaker than a car. Therefore I recommend an adequate lobbying of Members of European Parliament – well prepared, including also the staff of the M.E.P’s (as many M.E.Ps will leave this issue also to their staff who in this respect have something to say!), not too demanding, not assuming that only walking is the one and only way of movement. It is just to bring a certain weight to the arguments for walking and the planning for walking.
10. This should be done not only towards the European Parliament, but also to the two consultative bodies of the EU, the European Economic and social Committee, but mainly to the Committee of Regions where there are professionals in this field as they are mostly from regional but also local administrations and parliaments. And I can imagine that the relevant services of the European Commission should also be invited – why not to an inter-institutional, fully legitimate lobby meeting for walking in today’s and tomorrow’s cities. I can imagine that this might precede an outing through the „walkable“ – or „unwalkable“? – districts of Brussels or any other town where it is held.
11. The first European Court of Justice (ECJ) case on „walking policy“ once will be for sure – e.g. if there is a preliminary ruling (art. 267 EU-T II [TFEU]), if e. g. there is an argument before any national court on a recommendation or Communication on Walking by the EU Commission, which has served as interpretation tool (or not) for the judges. This may be also the result of any dysfunctional zoning policy on local level which contradicts a possible Recommendation or Communication by the EU Commission.
12. There are also many small projects of the European Union where exchanges, so-called mobilities, the sharing of opinion and models are in the focus, e.g. the LLL (Life Long Learning) projects, until now LEONARDO DA VINCI, where international networking (sometimes even beyond the EU) can be exercised. I can imagine that e. g. (there is indeed existing an initiative for this in France) a networking of towns and cities in Europe will take place who have a „chemin des philosophes“, „Philosophenweg“, „Philosophers‘ Lane“ etc., where people used and use to go for a creative and re-creative walk, on the track of a philosopher. And these people who plan this intend also to create a European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG), a specific legal structure for European cooperation where e.g. seminars, study trips etc. can be held, and where public and private members can work together. This is a dedicated legal structure for making cooperation permanent, e.g. between cities or town planners etc. This legal person which it is suffers only of not being known by most of the European organisations, be they a local government, be they a private company.
Like WALK21 is a relatively new event, walking is a new, a forthcoming element in transport policy, although exercised during several 10.000s of years. It should become more outspoken and self-evident. Pedestrians and walkers are not just someone „as well“, but should be in the focus, should be attracted by cities who therefore have a creative task. The more walkers, the more there is also a positive approach to local business – so a „walking policy“ has even an economic dimension, and approximately 70% of all EU citizens live in cities and towns.
There may be walking hardliners who go barefoot in the snow for kilometers, or who are intolerant towards cyclists or car drivers. This is part of the human nature, and most people see this as exaggerated. And Walking is not everything. But everything without any walking is nothing. This is seen also in the European institutions. After all, the question for a European Walking Policy should be replied like this: No, we don’t need a EU Walking Policy – but yes, we need something like this.