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8 Transport policy

Transport Policy in the context of regional development

The Common Transport Policy has made a positive contribution to the success of the Union in the past decade. The provision of high quality transport services and infrastructure is an essential pre-requisite for ensuring that all regions share in the prosperity that the Single Market is creating. The opening up of markets has reduced prices and made distances shrink to the benefit of peripheral areas. It has also, however, led to a greater volume of traffic, which is now recognised as having negative consequences for congestion, dependency on oil and the environment.

Traffic growth has been greater in the cohesion countries than in the rest of the Union, due mainly to road passenger transport increasing at twice the rate elsewhere as car use catches up. The Community has invested substantially in infrastructure, where 'transport funds' (the Trans-European Network-TEN - transport budget line) have been used in conjunction with the Structural Funds, to give a major boost to the provision of infrastructure in the regions. The revision of the Common Transport Policy now underway seeks to improve the quality of transport as much as the services provided.

The Common Transport Policy through the 1990s

There were many achievements between 1992 and 2000. The supply of transport services, notably by road and air, increased significantly as prices fell in real terms. In road transport, outmoded restrictions were removed completely in 1998. The opening up of air transport markets increased the number of flights and lowered their cost. The main areas in which progress was made were:

  • the interconnection of national networks, particularly through the development of the trans-European transport network, which has substantially improved links within the cohesion countries and between these and the Union. The completion of the high-speed rail network will improve links between many regions. In addition, the new ISPA fund has been set up to finance infrastructure projects in the candidate countries;
  • the removal of bureaucratic controls and the technical harmonisation of transport equipment, which has reduced costs through economies of scale and removed technical barriers to international operations;
  • 'interoperability' of rail networks, developed first for high-speed trains in 1996, which is about to be extended generally.

However, there have also been negative aspects. In particular, congestion in urban areas and along main international routes has increased dramatically over the past decade as road traffic has grown.

Sustainable transport

During the 1990s, the issue of sustainability has gained importance. Under Article 6 of the Treaty, environmental considerations have to be integrated into the definition and implementation of Community policies and activities to ensure development is sustainable. The concept of sustainability includes not only environmental concerns but also economic and social considerations. While environmental issues are important they have to be balanced against competitiveness and social welfare.

Above all, transport should be safe. Road safety levels remain unacceptable, with 42,000 killed on the EU's roads every year. It is of particular concern that the situation in the cohesion countries is worse than elsewhere. While they have 17% of EU population, they account for 26% of fatal road accidents, suggesting that road improvements have not been matched by gains in safety. Maritime safety is also capable of improvement.

Progress has been made in environmental protection, notably in air quality. Community directives will reduce air pollution by 70% by 2010 thanks to technical improvements in fuels and vehicles, though some emissions remain a problem. Technical measures at European level are not a complete answer and local measures need to be taken to reduce urban emissions. New infrastructure can also help, as in the case of the Athens metro, which is expected to reduce car use substantially. Transport accounted for 28% of CO2 emissions in 1998. The EU Kyoto objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 8% by 2008-2012 is far from being met and requires, among other changes, a shift from road to other modes of transport.

To achieve such a shift was one of the aims of the 1992 White Paper. Despite significant growth in short sea shipping, however, the potential of environmentally-friendly modes of freight transport, such as inland waterways and rail, has yet to be realised.

There is a clear need to update Community policy and to propose new measures and priorities to improve the overall efficiency of the transport system. The 1992 White Paper identified an inherent risk of the transport system becoming unbalanced and unsustainable and this in effect has happened. The revised policy has to tackle the challenge.

The trans-European transport network

There were major efforts in the 1990s to upgrade transport systems in the assisted regions and cohesion countries to levels more similar to those elsewhere in the EU. Since the mid-1990s, investment has increased and projects started in the early 1990s, such as the Madrid-Seville high-speed train or large sections of the Pathe motorway, have been completed.

In sea transport, the dominance of the northern ports has been challenged by large growth in container traffic in the Mediterranean, as a result of the new port of Gioia Tauro and investment in Algeciras and elsewhere.

Public private partnerships have brought stricter control of the risks taken and of the work carried out. Spata airport in Greece and the Vasco da Gama bridge in Portugal are good examples. The creation of special project authorities in the public sector has also served to improve accountability and efficiency.

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