Speech by EVP Timmermans at The Cycling Summit 2022

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Good morning everyone,

What a wonderful day!

I was sitting there listening and also watching people peddling by, which is such a beautiful sight.

I arrived at the airport and saw a huge sign – it was reminiscent of a beer ad – which said “Copenhagen, probably the best cycling city in the world”.

Well, probably.

If you compete with Amsterdam – or with other cities, because it’s happening very quickly now – it’s a good competition, because nobody loses. You know, who comes first or second, doesn’t matter: you all win.

I’ve been living now in Brussels for almost eight years. And whenever I can, which sadly is not very often these days, I cycle to work from outside Brussels. Where we live it’s about 13-14 kilometers to the office.

When I first started doing that, I realised very quickly: you have to have a bloody death wish to do this. But now, eight years later, things have really changed. I have bike lanes right up to the office now, which was unthinkable only a couple of years ago.

A city like Brussels, hit by COVID like many other cities, really used that as an opportunity to temporarily or permanently bring cycling paths to also help people make that choice. And that’s a revolution.

There’s also a second revolution which wasn’t mentioned before, but you can see it. And that’s the coming of electric bikes.

It is one of the most democratizing biking events I’ve ever seen, because it just takes away age. It takes away – you don’t have that much here, but we do have in Brussels: hills.

I used to arrive at the office covered in sweat, I had to have a shower and I can tell you, the Berlaymont seems like a nice office from the outside, but if you have to take a shower there…

I now bought an electric bike, which my son hates, and he says: “You’re not 70 yet, wait until you’re 70.” But I have an electric bike and the advantage is I don’t get terribly sweaty, because I switch on the motor when I need to go uphill, and I feel like I’m in the Tour de France when I go downhill.

I’m just saying: revolutions are happening. I was in Strasbourg not so long ago. Early in the morning there were so many mothers and fathers taking their children to school in these – obviously Dutch-built – cargo bikes also now supported by electric motors.

This is really something that inspires me to continue with this work.

But we have to make sure we do the right things also in policy. For my grandparents the bike was the only way they could get around. They couldn’t afford anything else.

So now, we see it as a luxury something, but for previous generations of Danes and Dutch people this was the mode of transportation you could afford.

You bought a bike for life. The thing weighed about 40 kilos. But it was the instrument that took away social differences, because it did not discriminate. And that’s happening again.

The bike is accessible, the electric bike is increasingly accessible to everyone in the population and even municipalities across Europe make the choice of subsidizing that for people who couldn’t afford it, which I think is a good choice.

I promised this community at the start of my mandate now that I will be a champion for cycling inside the European Commission. I think I’ve kept that promise, but I intend to do more to keep that promise.

In our 2030 Climate Target Plan, where we set out Europe’s roadmap towards reaching our climate goals in 2030, we already said that more cycling is needed to reach these goals. And ever since cycling has become part of our European climate action.

Some of this is driven by policy, but most of this is driven by decisions made by our citizens themselves. This is happening because citizens are making that choice. We just have to make that choice even easier for them. It went global at the COP26 in Glasgow last year because we could introduce cycling also in the discussions there and everybody agreed that to reach our global climate goals we need also global Cycling.

So, today I will first share where that vision has already brought us. Like Ms. Delli, I think we should look ahead. We can and we should go further and adopt even new initiatives to promote more cycling in Europe.

Last month we announced these 100 European cities that will be climate neutral by 2030. I said it to them when I was in Finland at the meeting with Eurocities a couple of weeks ago, and I want to repeat it now: it cannot be done without cycling. That’s it. It’s simply impossible to do without cycling.

So I count on all of you here, whether you represent industry or cycling associations, or any other people who are passionate about this and who are informed about this, to help me convince all cities all across Europe.  You cannot achieve your goals without cycling. By the way, cycling will make it a lot easier for you to achieve your goals. I think this is an argument we should be bringing.

In our proposed new rules for investments in our trans-European transport network, we have included that all European cities above 100.000 people should design a plan by 2025 to make their urban mobility clean, sustainable: emissions-free.

In that plan, priority will be given to more cycling, but also of course walking and public transport. Obviously. Cities that have solid plans for that can count on priority access to European funding. This is making cycling the European way and increasingly the fashionable way also.

But we should not stop there. Just because cycling is often promoted at the local and regional level, and rightly so, it doesn’t mean that the European Union doesn’t have any role to play. The rules that we propose in Europe can and should, whenever it’s possible, have a cycling dimension.

It’s also a mentality you need to have. And that’s a commitment that I think we can take further.

Let me give a couple of examples about this.

Let’s have a bike ride.

The first thing you need for a bike ride is a bike and we want to attract more citizens together.

So you were talking about that earlier, about the industry. By the way, if you noticed, these frames are all carbon, and they are all exclusively made in China, not us. But we’re building frames again, that’s new. There’s two new factories and an amazing entrepreneur in Portugal who has started out with new factories that makes it interesting for frames to be built in Europe. Of course they’re not at this stage carbon frames, they’re steel frames, but it reduces tremendously the carbon footprint. It brings jobs back to Europe. And it allows us also to innovate in this area.

I think that’s one of those things we could promote. And as it was said before, it creates jobs.

You know, the thing is we will not have unemployment in Europe. Only if we mess up the reskilling of people who leave industries that will slowly decline, then we will have unemployment. And then, if we mess up the reskilling of people to go to industries like the cycling industry, we will have double problems because we will have industry that can’t find people, and have people who can’t find jobs. That can’t happen to us. So the whole issue of skilling and reskilling people is part of the cycling strategy as well. We should never, ever forget that.

So if you have a bike – and if you get a bike, get a European bike preferably; you have them in this incredible price range right now – then what you need is a safe place to cycle.

For that we need bike lanes.

We already have the ambition to help cities and regions to double the amount of kilometers for cycling paths to 5,000 km in this decade, by 2030.

But when Europe co-finances a big railway project, it can also guide investors in putting in bike lanes and bridges when building the tracks.

So, building cycling lanes along railway tracks is something that is profitable, something to be incorporated into the budget without too much extra cost.

Then, of course, you have to be able to park and hopefully also charge your bike at your destination and also that, in city planning, in housing planning, should be an integral part of that. If we have to make sure there’s enough charging capacity for EVs, taking bikes along that is relatively easy, and that should also be part of the state of mind when developing new housing.

We encourage the European Parliament to come on board with this and I’ve listened to Ms Delli, and I think it is very much possible.

Again, I think our industrial capacity should be also geared towards bikes. We have our battery strategy, which is of course directed towards EVs and towards batteries to solve renewable energy, but the bike industry will also see profit from that.

We will make batteries that are lighter, which is good for bikes. Batteries that are recyclable, which is good for the environment, that are produced in Europe with components from Europe, which is also good for our geopolitical position and our economic position. That is the way forward.

Also here the bike industry can piggyback on what’s happening in the automotive industry, and I’m not sure that’s happening enough yet. I’m more than happy to make that happen – I seem to have a lot of time invested in the automotive industry these days.

I think we got a historical agreement this week on the Fit for 55 package.

If you put a lot of effort in it and you show how it can be done, you can get an automotive industry that three years ago was really in an adversarial position – saying that we do not believe we can do this – and now, by and large, are completely on board with the 2035 target for ending combustion engine production in Europe.

The revolution is really going on, even if sometimes we don’t see it because we’re distracted by monsters such as Mr Putin. It is now clear that they are intentionally targeting as many civilian targets as they can find. That is a level of barbarism that needs to be confronted and can never be accepted.

 

I want to echo what Ms. Delli said on behalf of the European Parliament.  We should work together across these two institutions to have a new European initiative to boost cycling. And today I join her in announcing that we at the European Commission should work together with the European Parliament on an inter-institutional European Declaration on more cycling in Europe. I think this is very important to do that.

If there’s anything I can say about the Green Deal and the green transition: we could do things from the top, we need to, because the scale is so big  and you cannot do this in individual Member States anymore. But the real revolution can only come bottom up and that is our biggest challenge: we’re working from the top, but it has to happen from bottom up.

And that’s why I believe the cycling revolution will happen in cities and towns. It will not be happening at the Berlaymont or at the European level, not even at the national government level. So our responsibility is to encourage, assist, support cities and towns to make this happen.

You are not on your own.

We will facilitate your sharing of information about this, among cities in Europe. You can count on my support. If you see a project you want to have and if there’s a cycling dimension, I will give you my support to make it happen.

But we need to understand that this revolution will be made by citizens, but only by citizens. It can also be broken by citizens if they feel that some of them are left behind, if we don’t understand that this transition has to be just, otherwise there will be just no transition. And cycling can be a symbol of that.

I’m going from my grandparents — for whom cycling was a necessity they didn’t always like— to my first grandchild who’s now learning to cycle and I span that and I feel so strongly about the importance of cycling in the past but even much more in the future.

A green Europe will be a cycling Europe. I’m convinced of that and with your support we will get there.

Thank you very much.

Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.