Jacques "Wheel" Barrot, in his humble post as transport commissioner, was a busy little bee last week at the first transport council of his reign. Not only did he shepherd through the Galileo system to its "historic" deployment phase, he also took time out to introduce an ambitious road safety strategy, subsequently approved by the assembled transport ministers.
The aim is to halve the number of people killed and injured by 2010, an aim curiously similar to that of the current Labour administration, and amongst the delights in store for us is the provision of automatic devices to limit vehicle speeds.
There is, in fact, a certain linkage here between this plan and Galileo, the idea being to couple "cruise control" technology with the Galileo positioning signal, to provide remote mechanisms for automatically cutting speeds, in line with prevailing road speed limits - a "backseat driver" in every car.
And, true to form, the EU has ambitions of making this system compulsory, so that drivers will be forced to have the system fitted – incidentally providing a valuable income stream for Galileo, as member states will be required to pay license fees for its use (which will, no doubt, be passed on to its unwilling end-users).
Those who might wonder what authority the EU has to involve itself in these matters would do well to read our earlier post on the subject, where we revealed that a little-known amendment to the Treaty of Rome, incorporated in the Maastricht treaty, modified Article 75, to include road safety in the Common Transport Policy. In one fell swoop, the commission massively extendedc its powers, but only now is it beginning to make use of them
In its current strategy, the EU commission is concentrating on "rules enforcement" and on sharing best practices at EU, national and local levels. It is in the process of developing cross-border enforcement initiatives, standardising traffic laws, fines and enforcement procedures- to say nothing of speed limits.
In the council conclusions of 10 December, ministers are also going along with the idea that a percentage of vehicle taxes, motorway fees, insurance premiums, et cetera, should be allocated to road safety improvements (such as the Euro-road hump?). They also agreed an idea which should delight all jaded motorists: allocating a part of fines for traffic offences to road safety improvements. Guess which bit Gordon Brown will be happiest with?