Ministers debate future EU transport funding

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EU transport ministers agree on the future challenges identified by the European Commission, but stress the need to take into account the impact of the current economic crisis on the sector and make passengers pay more for using infrastructure. 

“The key problem is really resources,” said Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani, addressing EU ministers on Friday (9 October). 

“We might want to create a fund for EU transport infrastructure,” he added, without further explanation.  

Summarising ministers’ comments on the Commission’s communication on the future EU transport policy, Swedish Minister Åsa Torstensson spoke of the need to develop “viable and sustainable financing mechanisms for new infrastructure”. This could be done by making users pay for external costs of transport such as pollution, she added. 

Torstensson said that while ministers agree with the Commission on the key challenge of combining economic growth with a responsible attitude to the environment and tackling climate change, member states call for greater consideration of their regional differences, in particular regarding infrastructure. 

State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Transport Engelbert Lütke Daldrup stressed the importance of the subsidiarity principle for national infrastructure planning and financing, but said the EU could help with technology investment. He said he “would also like to see an EU fuel strategy to get rid of fossil fuels” and EU level standards and infrastructure building for electric cars.

The Visegrad countries (the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary and Poland) summarised their contributions in a written joint statement underlining the need to take into account the specific situation of the new member states. They said EU funds should be used to help close technological and infrastructure gaps between the most and least-developed regions, as these gaps “affect the economy”. 

Ministers also called for better integration of all modes of transport, but stressed that ongoing EU activities should be finalised before embarking on any new ventures. They also considered that the Trans-European Networks for Transport (TEN-T) policy could be an important tool for developing Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).

TEN-T policy in dire straits

Last week, the coordinators of TEN-T’s priority projects presented reports on progress made. While Commissioner Tajani said he was satisfied with progress, closer analysis of the reports shows only minor developments, reflecting the lack of public financing for the policy. 

While projects such the Øresund bridge – a two-track rail and four-lane road bridge and tunnel linking Sweden and Denmark – and Malpensa airport in Italy have already been completed, the ‘Motorways of the Sea’ project has not seen much development, for example. Construction of ‘Rail Baltica’ – a rail project linking Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland – has likewise suffered from the economic downturn, the coordinator noted.

Whereas the Commission had originally demanded €20 billion to finance its policy, member states reduced EU funding for transport to €8 billion and offered only €5.3 billion for the 30 projects. 

A mid-term review of the TEN-T policy is expected in 2010 and a full-scale budgetary revision is due for 2013.

France and Italy to fund express railway 
through the Alps

On Friday (9 October), the French and Italian transport ministers signed an agreement to further develop an experiment which sees lorries transported on an express railway through the Alps. The objective is to transport 100,000 lorries a year on a future ‘rail highway’ to decrease road traffic in the Alps. 

The new rail connection between the French city of Lyon and its Italian counterpart Turin should be built over the next 15 years. 

While the EU 1992 White Paper on Transport sought to open up European transport markets, the 2001 White Paper proposed 60 measures to create a sustainable transport system and balance different transport modes. A 2006 mid-term update of the strategy attempted to re-balance the policy towards economic objectives. 

In June 2009, the European Commission presented its vision for an integrated, technology-led and user-friendly sustainable transport system after 2010 (EURACTIV 18/06/09).

  • 30 Sept. 2009: Deadline for submitting stakeholder comments on Commission communication.
  • 21-22 Oct. 2009: TEN-T Days 2009: 'The future of Trans-European Transport Networks: building bridges between Europe and its neighbours' (Napoli).
  • 20 Nov. 2009: Results of public consultation to be published at a conference.
  • 17-18 Dec. 2009: Transport Council to adopt conclusions on future of transport.
  • 2010: Commission set to publish White Paper on the Future of Transport, putting forward concrete policy proposals for adoption between 2010 and 2020. 

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