Getting from A to B is a daily experience for most Europeans. A is where you are, B is where you want to end up, and anything that can help increase the convenience and reduce the time taken to achieve this is to be welcomed. Advances in transport may have changed the way we view the world, but what if you want to travel not simply from A to B, but from Æ to б.
Free movement is one the EU's enshrined principles, but free movement is easier said than done. With this typically European paradox in mind, the commission has this year presented its plans for the core network corridors of the trans-European transport network (Ten-T). For EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas the arguments for improving transport networks within the EU are obvious. "A fully functioning single market depends on modern high-performing infrastructure to connect Europe, above all in transport, energy and information and communication technologies," said the Estonian official.
"A fully functioning single market depends on modern high-performing infrastructure to connect Europe, above all in transport, energy and information and communication technologies"-Siim Kallas
One of the core principles guiding the Ten-T projects is unifying the east and west of Europe, and the Baltic-North Sea corridor is a 3200km attempt to bring the European Union closer together. Pavel Telička, who is the Ten-T coordinator for this corridor, told the Parliament Magazine that the EU's "internal market doesn't have a sufficient transport and logistics backbone in Europe". For Telička, though, the Baltic-North Sea corridor is, "not only a question of interconnectivity on the internal market, but also a question of integration for the new member states in transport terms".
The Baltic-North Sea corridor links Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Cologne and Antwerp, as well as a number of locations in between. This link runs from the EU's political centre in Belgium all the way to the far eastern border of the union. Telička, who is leaving his post as coordinator to take up a seat in the European parliament following May's elections, underlines the importance of "interconnectivity with the eastern markets". "If we want to exploit the internal market to the maximum then we need to have considerably better transport infrastructure, both railway, road and waterways, as well as much better interconnectivity with the outside world," he added.
The Ten-T projects have been running for some time, indeed Telička has been performing a coordinating role as part for the Rail Baltica project for eight or nine years. However, he highlights the importance of the commission's new approach, citing the Ten-T guidelines and connecting Europe facility (CEF), which began operation in January this year, as moves which can "make up for some of the insufficient decisions of the past". "What we have now is a better policy concept than we had previously," he stressed.
The Czech official also pointed to the new financial clout presented by the CEF, which he called a "rather significant, though not fully sufficient, financial instrument". Siim Kallas says that, "The cost of developing EU infrastructure to complete the Ten-T core network requires about €500bn, of which €250bn would be for the removal of the main bottlenecks up to 2020." With all this money available, Telička stressed that the funding of these new corridors is directly dependent on the success of the projects. "No project equals no money," he said. "If one of the corridors were not sufficiently prepared for early line financing, then in early 2017 it might mean that some of their financing, which today is more or less allocated, may be reallocated to a different corridor. This, in my opinion, is a significant improvement because it puts severe pressure on every single corridor, every single project, but also the member state concerned, because if you do not perform you might be losing money in favour of another corridor or a different project. This is a more competitive environment, but not with intention just to establish competition, but to step up some of the preparatory work and implementation."
"Early next year we should have the three Baltic countries integrated into the internal market, including in transport terms. We would have a rail connection which could be able to carry at 80-90km per hour from the boat ports to Warsaw and down to central and western Europe"- Pavel Telička
The Baltic-North Sea corridor is already beginning to bear fruit, but as Telička highlights, currently, "You cannot take a train from the port of Tallinn to Riga and down to Warsaw because it takes and ages and you cannot move freight by track." In some areas "you are only able to run some trains at top speeds of 30km per hour," he said, but added that, through the Rail Baltica project, "Early next year we should have the three Baltic countries integrated into the internal market, including in transport terms. We would have a rail connection which could be able to carry at 80-90km per hour from the boat ports to Warsaw and down to central and western Europe and vice versa and this is not the case today."
This improved integration in to central Europe and beyond "has been an absolute priority for the Baltics for the past few decades," said Telička. The newly elected MEP pointed to the "large number of government memorandums and declarations of prime minister and ministers of transport" that have been issued on the matter. "Suddenly, thanks to the implementation in Poland and the Baltic countries it's becoming a reality," he concluded.