Single market ‘unimaginable’ without common transport policy

Linking Europe’s regions and networks through an efficient cross-border transport system can be the backbone of the single market, writes Ismail Ertug.

By Ismail Ertug MEP

02 Apr 2014

Trans-European transport networks have come a long way. This idea is not new, and already back in the 1980s it was clear that a single market with freedom of movement for goods, persons and services would only work if the various regions and networks across Europe were linked by efficient transport infrastructure. Decades later, Europe is striving to finalise its cross-border connections and to upgrade its major lines in order to facilitate long distance travel across the trans-European transport network (TEN-T).

The latest TEN-T guidelines now add a whole new spirit to this project. For the very first time, there is a coherent and transparent methodology underlying the selection of European transport projects (projects of common interest). This methodology aims to rein in political arbitrariness and to focus on those infrastructure projects which provide the highest European added value.

"The aim of the core network corridors is to achieve common technical standards and to combine different modes of transport in the best possible way"

The approach is very simple: a comprehensive network consisting of regional and national routes feeds into a second core network. The core network constitutes the real backbone of the single market. It connects our continent between east and west, north and south, passing through major transport hubs and cities. These main lines are divided into nine corridors each coordinated by an individual TEN-T coordinator. The aim of the core network corridors is to achieve common technical standards and to combine different modes of transport in the best possible way.

In abstract terms, Europe is now arranged around an infrastructure map similar to that of a city with a metro plan at its very heart. The only difference is that while there is often a gap between transport means in cities and their surrounding areas, TEN-T doesn’t end at borders. Good cooperation in infrastructure planning with candidate and neighbouring countries is a priority. Moreover, the comprehensive network ensures that everyone across Europe can benefit from using the network within 30 minutes from wherever he or she is located.

Of equally great importance is the overall shift within TEN-T towards more environmentally friendly transport modes. The new focus on rail and inland waterways will strengthen competition, especially with road transport which currently makes up more than two thirds of all transport operations in the EU. This is alarming bearing in mind the commission’s aims for a 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in transport by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

A considerable obstacle to competition in rail transport is constituted by the lack of technical harmonisation, which continues to impede trains from being operational across European borders. TEN-T now obliges member states to ensure the deployment of European rail traffic management systems (ERTMS) and electrification of the whole core network by 2030. Member states can also benefit from increased EU co-financing rates for these infrastructure projects of up to 50 per cent for traffic management systems like ERTMS, and 40 per cent for cross-border projects and bottlenecks in rail transport and inland waterways.

Setting the right incentives through attractive EU co-funding rates is an important tool within the TEN-T policy. The institutions have agreed on a budget of €26.25bn within the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2014-2020. Compared to the €8bn of the last MFF, this can be considered as a manifesto for a stronger commitment in European transport policy by all member states. However, appearances can be deceiving.

The commission has estimated the financial need for upgrading TEN-T over the next MFF at €500bn. In addition, the new TEN-T budget already includes an €11.3bn carry-over for member states eligible to the cohesion fund, with specific rules. As such, will member states really be able to leverage the necessary sum in order to complete the TEN-T network by 2030?

To conclude, Europe had been quite clear-sighted from the very beginning when it comes to infrastructure planning. A single market without a common transport policy was simply unimaginable. When comparing the various updated TEN-T maps from over the past few decades this becomes even more evident.

A former patchwork has slowly evolved into a network. Up until now these developments had been mostly worked out behind the scenes, but today’s TEN-T policy takes up a far more prominent role.