Removing cross-border bottlenecks, upgrading infrastructure, and streamlining cross-border transport operations would all fall under the proposed regulation on guidelines for the development of Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T).
Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport, said that although crunch discussions on financing lay ahead, the deal was “a very important achievement” that would start to move Europe away from a patchwork of national networks towards a pan-European hub.
“Ministers have today given strong political backing for plans to build the strategic transport connections necessary to fuel Europe's future economic growth,” he said.
The proposed regulation still needs to be approved by the European Parliament. The Commission says that “with political will” this could happen in the first half of 2013.
But funding is likely to remain elusive as member states expressed concerns regarding the budgetary consequences of the proposal.
"The text agreed upon makes it possible for member states not to implement certain projects if the financial resources required are not available or if the projects are not mature enough," the ministers said in a statement after the meeting.
The list of core network projects will be attached to the proposed €50 billion Connecting Europe Facility proposed by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso in October.
Under the new plan, a core EU transport network will be built by 2030, using 10 major transport corridors.
Several member states were apparently won round after having reportedly objected to the plan’s division of the core hub between priority projects and a ‘comprehensive network’ of longer-term projects, to be completed by 2050.
The proposed new connections, which will cover all long-distance modes of transport – road, rail, air, inland waterways, maritime transport, and intermodal platforms – include:
- 86 main European ports with rail and road links
- 37 key airports with rail connections into major cities
- 15,000 km of railway line upgraded to high speed
- 35 major cross-border projects to reduce bottlenecks
The EU envisions the projects being built using common technical requirements, inter-operable across the network. Road and tunnel safety standards would also be harmonised, as would future electric car charging point infrastructure.
Libor Lochman, the director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies welcomed the plan but cautioned against any whittling away of the €31.7 billion funding, promised under the Connecting Europe Facility last October.
“Rail services are only as good as the infrastructure they run on,” Lochman said. “Adequate funding is therefore essential for a well-developed European railway network. That’s why we urge member states to ensure the necessary financial means to make the proposed networks reality.”
A separate Commission proposal revising the current rules on ground-handling to increase competition was also approved at the Transport Ministers Council.
The proposal was first announced in the Commission’s ‘better airports’ package last December but faced opposition from European trades unions, who say that increased liberalisation degrades workers’ protection, without improving services.
Kallas told a press conference in Brussels that a compromise had been reached.
“The agreement today strikes the right balance between giving airlines more choice of quality service providers while strengthening protection for workers in what is a very labour-intensive sector,” he said.
Airlines will now be offered a “full opening” of the self-handing market, and a choice of at least three service providers in every airport, as opposed to the current minimum of two.
In return, when a baggage handling contract is changed, member states would be allowed to transfer their workers’ existing rights to the new provider.