TEN-T: Building a Trans-European Transport Network


Building a trans-European transport network which connects all EU Member States is essential for promoting economic growth, social cohesion, competitiveness and environmental sustainability. However, major projects are being delayed due to a lack of funds and government coordination. 


The construction of a trans-European transport network (TEN-T), where national networks for all modes of transport are accessible, interconnected and interoperable, is fundamental to securing a single market with free movement of passengers and goods, as well as for reinforcing economic ties and social cohesion and promoting competitiveness and sustainable development in the European Union. 

To achieve these objectives, the Community first established guidelines, in 1996, defining a series of priority projects of common interest. Financial instruments to support member states in implementing these projects were also set up. 

These guidelines were reviewed in 2004 prior to the enlargement of the EU, with the aim of integrating the ten new member states’ infrastructure into the TEN-T (See EURACTIV 11 May 2004). 

The number of priority projects, deemed essential for completing cross-border connections among the EU's 27 member states, was raised from 14 to 30, and rules for granting Community aid were modified to allow for a higher maximum co-funding rate (of 20% rather than 10%) for priority projects which cross borders and natural barriers. 

The updated list of projects also aims to ensure the modal shift – advocated in the 2001 Transport White Paper as the key to a more sustainable transport policy – by focusing investments in rail and water transport (of the 30 priority projects, 18 are railway projects, 2 are inland waterways and shipping projects). 

The benefits:

A 2004 study (TEN-STAC) shows that completing the networks will considerably reduce journey time for passengers and goods, through a 14% reduction in road congestion and improved rail performance. For inter-regional traffic alone, the benefits are estimated at almost €8 billion per year. 

In addition, freight transport in the EU-15 is expected to increase by more than two thirds between 2000 and 2020 and to double in the new member states. Without TEN-T this increase in transport would be impossible to handle, and our rate of economic growth significantly slowed. 

Completing the networks should also bring important dividends for the environment. According to the study, on current trends, CO2 emissions from transport would be 38% greater in 2020 than in 2003. However, completing the 30 priority axes should slow down this increase by about 4%, representing a reduction in CO2 emissions of 6.3 million tonnes per year.

The costs... and the lack of funds:

A huge number of ‘missing links’- amounting to around 4,800 km of roads and 12,500 km of railway lines - still have to be built before 2020. In addition, around 3,500 km of roads, 12,300 km of rail lines, and 1,740 km of inland waterways are to be substantially upgraded.

The Commission estimates the cost of the priority projects alone at €225 billion by 2020 and, if one includes projects of common interest not identified as priority projects, the cost will be €600 billion.

Although huge, the investment represents only around 0.16% of European GDP, whereas it is estimated that it would generate additional economic growth of 0.23% of GDP.

Nevertheless, work on completing the TEN-T has repeatedly been delayed due to lack of funding, especially from member states and the private sector. 

Indeed, EU funds (averaging €600 million per year between 2000 and 2006) are only available for co-financing a maximum of 50% of preparatory studies and from 10 to 30% of construction costs, despite the fact that completion of the network remains crucially dependent on the EU's ability heavily to co-finance cross-border sections, because governments are hesitant to invest in projects outside their national plans.

With this in mind, the Commission, during negotiations on the EU's 2007-2013 financial perspectives, initially proposed to substantially increase support for TEN-T from the EU budget to €20 billion. It also suggested raising the maximum co-funding rate to 50%.

However, member states rejected the proposal and support for the trans-European transport network was fixed at €8.013 billion for the period – of which €5.1 billion is reserved for the 30 priority projects

According to some estimates this would only be sufficient to leverage around €56 billion in total funds – including funds provided by member states and the private sector – a long way off the €600 billion needed. 

Inland waterways would receive "maximum possible funding", receiving as much as 11.5% of the total budget. Railways will get 74.2% of total funds, while roads receive just 2.7%. 

Additional funds will also be allocated to Europe's satellite navigation project Galileo (€190 million) as well as to two "traffic management" projects aimed at optimising existing infrastructure: 

  • €350 million to the SESAR project, which aims to create a 'single European sky' that will help deal with the increasing number of flights that arriving and departing from European airports, while also helping to contribute to fuel savings and cutting CO2 emissions. 
  • €100 million for intelligent road transport systems, to help optimise infrastructure capacity, promote intermodality and improve the safety of road networks.  

Future developments:

  • Improving coordination:

Work on the major trans-European network projects has been hindered by lack of funding but also, for some projects, by problems of coordination between member states, be it regarding work timetables, the distribution of funds or the exact route to be followed.

To improve coordination of investments, the Commission has nominated six European coordinators to facilitate the implementation of the priority projects most in need of coordination. The main role of these coordinators is to deal with projects which need a strong, often political, push in order to overcome difficulties in the planning and construction phases. They will also promote the projects to private investors and financial institutions and keep the Commission informed of progress.

  • Motorways of the Seas:

In view of reaching the objective set in the 2001 Transport White Paper, of significantly shifting part of the expected traffic increase from road to other modes of transport, the Commission put forward the "motorways of the sea" initiative to promote short-sea-shipping routes as alternatives to road transport. 

Four corridors have been designated for the setting up of projects of European interest, the aim being to make them operational by 2010.

  • Extending the network to the EU’s new neighbours:

In November 2005, a high-level group chaired by ex-commissioner for Transport Loyola de Palacio published a report examining how best to extend the major trans-European transport axes to neighbouring countries and regions following the enlargement of the EU. 

The Group identified five major transnational axes, spreading in all directions, essential for fostering regional cooperation and integration and enhancing trade relations.


Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot  said that the limited funds available for TEN-T should not be spread out on a large number of different projects, but rather be concentrated on projects related to "critical cross-border sections" and on "the most environmentally-friendly transport modes – inland waterways and rail", in order to create "a leverage effect to allow or accelerate the realisation of essential European infrastructures". 

"If we had wanted to give this strong impulse to all the projects that deserved Community support during the seven-year period, it is not €5.1 billion that we would have needed to dispose of but €7.4 billion," he stressed, adding: "Faced with these European budget insufficiencies, member states will have to live up to their responsibilities by mobilising the additional national budgets necessary to the realisation of the TEN-T." 

French Socialist MEP Gilles Savary, vice-chairman of the Parliament's Transport Committee, welcomed the Commission's "rigourous and transparent arbitration" in the choice of projects, saying it had successfully "avoided a sterile and inefficient powdering [of funds] to the benefit of a concentration of credits on cross-border regions and bottlenecks." 

He highlighted the "glaring paradox of member states, who responded to a first call for projects with 168 proposals worth €11.5 billion, after having meagrely conceded €5.111 billion for the TEN-T budget for the 2007-2013 period." 

While rail representatives insist that rail corridors should be the number one priority task for the EU, road transport organisations lament the under-investment in new road infrastructure under the TENs programme. 

Rail federations CER and UNIFE also propose increasing the budget available for TEN-T priority projects by allocating the development of new technology in transport (such as the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERMTS), the Single European Sky implementation programme (SESAR) or Galileo) to the research budget: “This would boost the TEN-T budget available for the priority projects by € 2 billion. This could be used to lever up to an additional € 14 billion.”

The CER adds that the EU should introduce a system where the external costs of transport, such as pollution, congestion and accidents, are included in user charges, according to the 'polluter-pays principle', and then re-invested in infrastructure projects. 

Policy expert Nicoleta Ion from the European Federation for Transport & Environment considers that: "however balanced the list of projects may be, it still remains an infrastructure building exercise, leaving little space for "soft" policies that aim at decoupling transport growth and economic growth. TENs may bring benefits for the overall EU trade, but small, local communities will be the first to deal with nuisances brought on by more transport infrastructure: more emissions, more transit traffic, more noise from high-speed railways, a fragmentation of the communities, etc. Also the presence of an EU-approved list of priority projects dramatically decreases the chances for smaller, local and regional projects to get funding, given that even Cohesion funding should be allocated as a priority to TENs projects." 

  • The short-listed projects are now sent to the member states and to the Parliament for approval.
  • 2008:  Final project funding decisions are expected at the beginning of the year. 
  • 2020: Target date for completing all 30 priority projects.

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