I managed a couple of one day trips to the continent during the long two week break from Parliament, to meet people in industry and commerce in Germany and Sweden. (No, they were not paid for by the taxpayer.)
It has made me want to be more European in one very important respect â€“ to have adequate transport capacity here at home, just as they do abroad.
Wanting to get there and back as quickly as possible without wasting too much travel time, I discovered the train was impossible. Day trips were impossible by train as the distances were too great. I did not want the extra cost of hotels and the extra time away from my responsibilities here, so I had to fly. My visit to Germany took me in a couple of hours to Munich, and from there I was able to take a car to my meetings. The terminal capacity at Munich airport was large, with plenty of room and plenty of staff to deal with incoming flights. It has received huge investment as Lufthansaâ€™s second hub airport after Frankfort. The roads to my destination were immaculate, with plenty of lanes and good junctions. The taxi driver was able to travel legally and safely at speeds of up to 160km (100 mph) with little difficulty. On my return to Heathrow there were long queues at Passport control owing to a lack of staff and positions, long queues to get out of the car park, and traffic jams, even on a motorway where the theoretical top speed is only 70 mph. There is a notable shortage of terminal and road capacity.
My trip to Sweden was even easier. I flew to Copenhagen, where I found another huge airport with plenty of terminal capacity and plenty of staff. The only thing that slows you down is the long walk from your entry gate to the exit. There is a magnificent fairly new bridge to Sweden with plenty of capacity for the limited volumes of traffic wanting to use it, financed by a toll. In Sweden the roads were capacious and relatively clear of traffic, although speeds are limited. I got to my destination half an hour early. I canâ€™t remember when that last happened to me in the UK. On my return I faced even longer queues at Heathrow for daring to have a British (so-called EU) passport, more jams to get out of the car park, and more jams on the inadequate roads around the airport.
France and Germany have 50% more motorway style road relative to their geographical size and populations than we do; Sweden probably even more. Most continental countries have large airport facilities where they are trying to attract more business, not seeking to limit it as at Heathrow. If this government wishes to help competitiveness â€“ and limit unnecessary emissions by allowing more efficient use of vehicles â€“ it must get on with allowing more private investment in roads and airport capacity. The present policy is not stopping people travelling, but it is making them very grumpy when they have to, and is creating more waste of energy than is desirable. The plane that brought me back to London had to circle London for some time before landing and then had wait around 15 minutes on the ground with the engines on before a stand became available. In Munich and Copenhagen the planes landed immediately on arrival and went straight to the stand and switched off. We should stop wasting fuel by having enough capacity, and by asking airlines to move their planes on the ground using smaller vehicles to tow or tug them.
I find it interesting that greens seem to like continental countries more than the USA or the UK because they talk the talk on greenery and are keen on targets. If you examine the record you find that in recent years leading continental countires have often increased CO2 emissions more than the US and some have failed to hit their targets. They have certainly tried to expand transport facilities more than the UK, but this may not be the cause of the excess emissions, given the way they are calculated and the impact congestion and delay has on the figures.