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Transport policy

Mobility is a basic need of societies. Public authorities are responsible for providing the infrastructure needed and defining and enforcing the rules on its use, so as to maximise the positive impact on economic development and welfare. And this must be done in ways that minimise pressure on the environment and prevent accidents. Some of these responsibilities are met at the European level.

The international mobility of people and goods contributes to productivity, economic growth and employment by providing access to resources, products, markets, and jobs. Mobility also plays a key role in economic and social cohesion in Europe. In turn, economic growth generates increasing transport volumes as a result of growth in production and sales, rising incomes, technological progress, and structural changes in production and consumption.

However, higher transport flows also lead to more congestion, accidents, and environmental pressures. The transport sector today accounts for about a third of final energy consumption in the EU-25 (excluding international maritime transport) and for about a quarter of its greenhouse gas emissions. Also, ambient air quality and exposure to outdoor noise are largely determined by transport emissions.

Therefore, transport policy seeks to create the conditions for efficient transport systems able to cope with increasing demand and support the provision of adequate transport infrastructure networks, while reducing the adverse impacts of transport activities.

Developing a European transport policy

A European transport policy was foreseen in the founding treaties of the European Economic Union because the free flow of goods and people would be a critical element in the single European market. Thus, protected national markets with fragmented freight transport systems would, in time, be gradually liberalised leading to harmonised trans-European transport networks (TEN-T). After a slow start, the development of a common European transport policy gained momentum in the early 1980s, with the subsequent liberalisation of the four different modes of transport (road, rail, air and water). Today, EU transport policy includes strategies to complete the internal market, further develop a trans-European network of major transport corridors and better connect Europe internationally. In line with EU social and environmental goals, it also promotes the efficient use of the different transport modes, makes the transport system safer and sustainable, and protects the interests of employees, passengers and citizens.

The role of DG ECFIN

DG ECFIN contributes to the preparation and evaluation of transport policy initiatives. It assists lead services, namely the Directorates-General for Transport (DG TREN), the environment (DG ENV) and the Taxation and Customs Union DG (DG TAXUD) in:

  • Conducting adequate problem analyses;
  • Identifying promising and economically meaningful policy options; and
  • Analysing the economic effects of policy initiatives and different elements of the transport system in general

Examples of this work are: the analysis of potential employment and growth effects of TEN-Ts; the economics of excise duties and infrastructure charging; and the economic analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of individual transport modes (SWOT analysis).

The ultimate aim is to ensure that policies and policy reforms are welfare-enhancing, that the economic implications are well understood, and that expected costs do not exceed expected benefits. Preferably, policy initiatives should support economic growth and job creation as well as sustainable development.

With this in mind, DG ECFIN provides methodological support to the analysis of policy proposals at the interface of transport, energy and environment, and their impact on cohesion within the European Union. DG ECFIN also encourages the use of economic instruments in these policies wherever deemed appropriate.

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