“The EU rail sector is in a bad way. If it is going to have a future at all, something will have to give.” The Finnish presidency hailed the agreement reached by transport ministers in the early hours of Thursday morning as a significant step forward, but diplomats are warning that no one should start popping the champagne corks yet.Although Helsinki persuaded EU member states to commit themselves to establishing a harmonised charging system and granting foreign firms access to international freight services, even Transport Minister Olli-Pekka Heinonen conceded that the meeting’s conclusions were worded in such a way that they could be interpreted differently by individual member states.This means that a final deal on a detailed package of measures could still be a long way off, although Heinonen insisted that significant progress had been made. “It was extremely important to get this concept on board so that we can continue the process,” he told European Voice this week. “This was a first step forward and now we will go to the concrete questions.” At last week’s ministerial meeting, member states agreed to work on several measures aimed at luring freight traffic away from Europe’s increasingly congested roads. Rail now carries less than 14% of EU freight traffic, less than half its share of the market in 1970.Ministers agreed, for example, to grant all licensed Union railway undertakings access to international freight services, in line with the European Com-mission’s plan to make Europe’s railways more competitive.But Paris is still expected to resist any attempts by outsiders to gain access to the country’s rail infrastructure, even though it signed up to the Finnish-brokered compromise.Germany and the UK are also refusing to back down over their demands for the right to be able to charge as much as they want for access to infrastructure, even though a majority of member states want to limit charges as much as possible.When it took over the Union presidency in July, Finland vowed to make getting agreement on the Commission’s rail liberalisation proposals a top priority for its six-month stint in charge of Union business, but progress has been held up by French stubbornness. Given that, said one diplomat, the Finns “really did as much as they could” last week.“We finally have common ground on the important principles. That to me is movement,” he said, although he warned that huge obstacles would still have to be overcome before a final deal could be reached.