By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union executive will discuss on Tuesday measures to offset spikes in energy prices for consumers across the 27-nation bloc, Transport Commissioner Adina Valean told Reuters.
Speaking in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Impact conference, Valean said technology leap was needed to make electric cars a viable transport alternative but the EU's 2035 target for phasing out new fossil-fuel cars was still far away.
EU states are to start discussing this plan by the bloc's executive European Commission in the coming months. Their approval, as well as that of the European Parliament is needed for the proposal but no final decisions are expected this year.
Sceptics include some poorer EU countries who fear they will become graveyards for second-hand cars discharged elsewhere and are pushing for a later target date.
"It will be a huge debate. It's true that the technology still needs to advance but 2035 is not that close," Valean said, adding the EU must also develop a network of charging stations.
"If someone does not have the possibility to charge at home, I don't think they'll opt for an electric car. It's like with a mobile phone - if you don't have the possibility to charge it whenever you need, fast and easy, it's a no-go."
The Commission is promoting rail as the most sustainable means of transport and Valean said member states are seeking 48.2 billion euros for rail projects from the bloc's emergency fund meant to help economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said the money would go to digitalisation to increase freight capacity, real-time updates and easier ways to purchase passenger tickets, as well as upgrading the network and buying new rolling stock by 2026.
Countries such as Spain, however, have warned that mustering the public backing for Europe's green transition has just become harder given the spikes in gas and electricity prices across the continent in recent months.
"We are going to discuss in the College next week some measures ... a toolbox for member states with possible measures to be taken so that they would compensate the increase of prices in energy," Valean said of a meeting on Tuesday of the Commission's top officials, including her.
EU leaders are then due to discuss the issue on Oct. 21-22. Among ideas floated so far, and already implemented by countries including France and Greece, are changing VAT and excise duties or direct consumer subsidies.
Another challenge for reducing emissions is keeping the world connected, an issue exhibited prominently by the highly-polluting global air traffic.
Asked if the necessary investment meant there was no future for low-cost flights, Valean said: "We can try to encourage and incentivise sustainable alternatives ... But its not for me to say if the business model of low-cost will disappear. They are very popular because they move a lot of people from one place to another."
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(Additional reporting by Kate Abnett, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by David Evans)