Road lobby calls for more investment ahead of EU transport policy review

As much as 20% of Europe’s GDP is supported by road transport, according to a new study by the European Union Road Federation which rejects the Commission’s 2001 idea of operating a ‘modal shift’ to rail.

Lobbyists are now fighting for the attention of the European Commission ahead of a review of the Union’s transport policy, due by the end of April.

The EU’s main objectives on transport policy were defined in the 2001 White Paper as:

  • to achieve a better balance between road and other modes of transport and create conditions for a ‘modal shift’, away from road;
  • to ‘decouple’ transport growth from rising economic activity;
  • to ensure the costs of different transports reflect their ‘external costs’; (including environmental damage, congestion, human casualties, etc.);
  • to reduce casualties, particularly on roads.

However, since then, the Commission has highlighted some “outstanding developments” that give good reason for an update of the EU’s transport policy. It highlighted these as:

  • EU enlargement to ten new countries;
  • weak economic growth;
  • high oil prices;
  • safety concerns.

In a speech last year, Commission Vice-President and EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the EU should reconsider its policy to decouple transport growth from economic growth. “I think we have evolved on this question,” Barrot told a debate organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC) on 5 June 2005. “Mobility has become an essential factor for competitiveness, one should not restrain it when our growth levels are low.”

The European Road Federation (ERF) published on 3 March 2006 a new publication on the socio-economic benefits of road transport. The publication points to what is sees as a "worrisome trend of declining investments in road infrastructure," which according to the ERF, "is […] threatening our welfare model based on safe and efficient individual mobility."

The ERF claims that "hard-data evidence clearly shows that roads in Europe contribute to as much as 20% of GDP." It cites the A7 motorway across the Valencia Region in Spain as an example. According to the ERF publication, the motorway has contributed to "as much as 1.5% of the overall regional GDP growth". 

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) is also adamant that roads "provide the best production tool to irrigate the modern, global economy". In Europe, it points out that "85% of road freight transport in tonnage is over distances of 150 km or less." "Any political calls for a modal shift to other transport modes (e.g. rail) fly in the face of reality," says the IRU. 

"Rail has structural limits [and is] not reliable for goods delivery," points out Hubert Linssen, General Delegate for the IRU who says that, for example, there are no rail tracks leading to supermarkets. The modal shift and decoupling of road transport from economic growth, he says, is simply not happening. "It is not the Commission position anymore," Linssen believes.

Rail industry stakeholders, for their part, deplore the declining budgets for trans-European transport network (TEN-T) projects under the EU's 2007-2013 financial planning. There are 30 TEN-T projects, 22 being major rail corridors such as the Lyon-Turin liaison under the Alps. CER and UNIFE point out that financial planning for the TEN-T network were slashed from 20 bn euros to approximately 7 bn under the European Council agreement on the EU's 2007-2013 financial perspective in December last year. This, they say, compares with the 140 bn euros they estimate are needed to cover the whole of the 30 projects until 2013.

Environmental NGOs have long criticised member states for supporting road transport and the car industry. "Direct and indirect subsidies to transport, in particular road and air transport, should be halted as soon as possible. Curbing national fiscal rules that stimulate car use and ending VAT exemptions of international transport are two priority areas," says T&E, the European Federation for Transport and the Environment.

"The London and Stockholm road management schemes show that with innovation, technology and creativity it's possible to achieve much more with tax-payers money than can be achieved by simply demanding more roads," T&E Director Jos Dings told EURACTIV.

The EU's long term objectives on transport policy were defined in a Commission White Paper published in 2001: "European transport policy for 2010: time to decide".

The paper set out the general objectives for the EU's transport policy until the year 2010. Some 60 measures were defined among which were controversial plans to harmonise fuel taxation for trucks and a series of ambitious infrastructure projects. These, for the most part, never saw the light of day due to lack of financing. 

  • End April 2006: Commission to present transport policy review (White Paper)

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