Ladies and gentlemen
It’s interesting that people have been saying more or less the same things about electric cars for more than 100 years.
I’m sure many of you will be familiar with a quote from the New York Times in 1911: “an electric car has long been recognized as ideal because it was cleaner, quieter and much more economical than gasoline-powered cars”.
I certainly don’t need to convince anyone here today of their merits and benefits.
What held true back in 1911 still holds true today.
By electrifying road transport, the way that people and goods move around Europe could change beyond recognition.
This applies especially to towns and cities, which generate a quarter of the EU’s transport emissions - mostly as a result of road congestion.
Public transport, and its image, could be vastly improved with fleets of ultra-clean and silent buses. Clean, silent service and delivery vehicles could transform the quality of urban life.
Just a few months ago, Europe adopted an important milestone to develop a transport system fit for the 21st century. Clean fuels are now firmly at the heart of EU transport policy.
With a reliable legal environment in place, the next step is to get things up and running on the ground. That means making sure enough appropriate infrastructure gets built so that we create the conditions for alternative fuels - such as electricity - to power transport into the future.
EU countries are now all developing national policy goals and guidelines to do this. With electric vehicles, we are looking at a target of 2020, so that they can at least circulate in urban and suburban agglomerations and other densely populated areas.
Electric vehicles have a major part to play in the future of transport. But first, they have to be fully integrated into the electricity network and into sustainable urban mobility policies. And their recharging points have to be compatible across Europe.
At the moment, around 2,000 electric vehicles are being driven in the Green eMotion demonstration regions, with more than 2,500 charging points installed. Both these numbers should keep increasing.
This is a great start. Today’s event - an impressive rally of electric cars driving from different European cities into Brussels - demonstrates that we are on the right track.
In the context of our annual Mobility Week, this is a valuable and concrete example of how Europe can advance with cleaner forms of transport.
It also shows the vital role being played by Green eMotion to help prepare a mass market for electric vehicles in Europe and accelerate their market roll-out.
On the ground, however, there is still a long way to go.
We still face some very practical challenges.
As I indicated, the major problem is infrastructure. Or rather, the lack of it.
It’s why each EU Member State has to build minimum numbers of charging points if Europe is to make headway in boosting customer acceptance of electric vehicles, which is still low.
That, and their high retail cost, has been holding back full-scale deployment.
We can only break this self-perpetuating cycle by making sure Europe has a proper network of compatible recharging facilities.
On the technical side, some essential improvements need to be made in battery technology to increase the driving range.
All this will only work, however, if we have common standards across Europe: technical compatibility, everywhere. This is the basis for true interoperability, which has been a driving principle underlying my approach to EU transport policy over the last five years. It is how we can achieve efficient and seamless travel across a genuine network.
That doesn’t only mean the actual physical interface at the charging point, it also means standardised ways to pay in all EU countries.
This is to avoid a situation where a car travelling, say, from France to the Czech Republic across Germany cannot do so, simply because the sockets at national charging stations are not compatible, or because there is no machine for processing a particular payment card.
If different standards exist alongside each other, it discourages potential investors, vehicle manufacturers and consumers.
I remember being present at the launch of Green eMotion, almost four years ago. I can only applaud the work being done in the demonstration regions, represented here today, where all the different aspects of an interoperable system of electromobility are being studied.
What is found to work well in the demo regions can be replicated across Europe.
These findings will eventually lead to interoperable systems and a common European platform that will allow people to operate and recharge their electric cars in the same way across the continent.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is no denying that the challenges we face in moving towards electromobility are considerable.
But I am confident that we will be able to address them successfully if the public and private sector work closely together in a properly coordinated EU approach.
That’s one of the reasons why Green eMotion is so important and the project a success. It brings together everyone involved - industry, manufacturers, cities, research institutions - so that we make sure that the best solutions possible will be established in the European market. Its findings should be spread widely to help us build a common structure for e-mobility in Europe - and that, in turn, will go a long way in helping us become a global leader in this exciting new sector.
By making this shift to greener transport, we all gain: European consumers, industry and business, and of course the environment.
Thank you for your attention.