Commission to step up TENs priorities to cover more ground

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Series Details Vol.7, No.20, 17.5.01, p17
Publication Date 17/05/2001
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Date: 17/05/01

By Renée Cordes

IT WASN'T supposed to be this way. By last year, the EU should have put the finishing touches on a new, intricate web of cross-border transport, energy and telecommunications links, affectionately known as Trans-European Networks (TENs).

The good news is that three of the European Commission's 14 high-profile transport priority projects are completed: the Oresund bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen, Milan's Malpensa airport and a conventional rail link in Ireland.

The bad news is that some projects, like the high-speed rail link between Spain and France, a multimodal Nordic triangle between Sweden and Finland and the high-speed French-Italian road link will not be completed for another 15-20 years.

By the end of 1999, less than one-quarter of the 'Fab 14' had been completed and under half of all funding had been secured, according to a report published last year by European construction federation FIEC.

The next report, due next month, isn't likely to reveal a whole lot of progress for 2000.

While it has no plans to abandon the outstanding priority projects, the Commission is about to do what many say it should have been done from the start.

In its revision to the TENS guidelines, the EU executive will seek to improve existing

capacity shortages and alleviate bottlenecks; increase investment for technology such as traffic management systems, and assess the economic, environmental and safety aspects of projects before agreeing to fund schemes.

This will be followed by a more in-depth revision of the guidelines a few years from now.

"It's time to find new priorities," said Domenico Campogrande of FIEC, which argues that it is time the Commission tones down its unrealistic ambitions and focuses on problem areas.

Surprisingly, transport was a mere afterthought when the Commission drew up its grand plan in the early 1990s.

EU leaders asked then European Commission President Jacques Delors to analyse why the Union was not generating jobs to bring down long-term unemployment.

In his White Paper on growth, competitiveness and employment, Delors came forward with a raft of suggestions, including his bold vision for TENS.

EU governments each drew up their own wish lists, and the end result was a catalogue of 14 priority projects deemed essential to the creation of a pan-European 'intermodal' network, ignoring borders to link peripheral regions to the centre.

Of course, each member state had its own agenda, and in many cases the process was motivated more by a desire for a high-profile project rather than economic sense.

Many critics argue that this was the wrong approach, since it focused on grand schemes rather than looking at the network as a whole.

The priority projects were a significant start, and many are now completed or going into the final implementation phase.

But transport cannot become competitive unless it offers real value on long-distance and international journeys, argues Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio.

Central to her plan for an improved TEN is the creation of a railway network dedicated to freight. This is easier said than done. Trains are often held up at borders because of different signalling systems or other technical obstacles, though this is to be erased through new interoperability directives. And as with all grand schemes, it will also be difficult to find funding.

The Commission would also like to see new transport links - mainly rail - to absorb increased traffic flows from the accession countries.

That is a tall order, given that most applicants are struggling to get their ownkkakekimk transport systems up to western standards.

The Trans-European Network was supposed to be the best physical manifestation of the single market. Whether it will ever be a perfect 10 depends on the willingness of EU policymakers to put their own interests aside and those of the Community as a whole first.

Article forms part of a survey on European transport issues. Feature on trans-European transport networks.

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