The “Motorways of the Sea” concept aims to introduce new intermodal maritime-based logistics chains in Europe, which should improve our transport organisation within the years to come. These chains will be more sustainable, and should be commercially more efficient than road-only transport. Motorways of the Sea will thus improve access to markets throughout Europe, and bring relief to our over-stretched European road system. For this purpose, fuller use will have to be made not only of our maritime transport resources, but also of our potential in rail and inland waterways, as part of an integrated transport chain.
The concept was introduced with the 2001 Transport White Paper- European transport policy for 2010: time to decide. The European Commission proposed the development of “Motorways of the Sea” as a “real competitive alternative to land transport The White Paper also defined that the Motorways of the Sea should be part of the trans-European network (TEN-T) and funds should be made available for its development.
Article 12a of the TEN-T guidelines gives three main objectives for the sea motorways projects:
(1) freight flow concentration on sea-based logistical routes;
(2) increasing cohesion;
(3) reducing road congestion through modal shift.
Four corridors were designated for the setting up of projects of European interest
- Motorway of the Baltic Sea (linking the Baltic Sea Member States with Member States in Central and Western Europe, including the route through the North Sea/Baltic Sea canal) (by 2010);
- Motorway of the Sea of western Europe (leading from Portugal and Spain via the Atlantic Arc to the North Sea and the Irish Sea) (by 2010);
- Motorway of the Sea of south-east Europe (connecting the Adriatic Sea to the Ionian Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus) (by 2010);
- Motorway of the Sea of south-west Europe (western Mediterranean, connecting Spain, France, Italy and including Malta and linking with the Motorway of the Sea of south-east Europe and including links to the Black Sea) (by 2010).
The 2001 Transport White Paper also introduced the involvement of a European Coordinator for the Motorways of the Sea with the task to facilitate the dialogue between the Member States, evaluate the progress of the program as a TEN-T Priority Project and make recommendations for its effective development and implementation. The Coordinator also produces an annual report on the progress achieved by Motorways of the Sea projects.
In 2006, five Task Forces were created covering the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western Mediterranean Sea. Their mission was to facilitate the implementation of MoS projects by providing the coordination to the Member States so as to identify and evaluate joint project proposals as well as plan and develop projects in their respective areas.
The task forces have produced Motorways of the Sea Master plans which provide a framework for the identification of Motorways of the Sea projects through calls for proposals and for their subsequent deployment.
The 2011 Transport White Paper "Roadmap for a single European transport" stressed anew the importance of Motorways of the Sea. The 2013 TEN-T Guidelines (Regulation (EU) No 1315/2013) redefine the Motorways of the Sea as the maritime dimension of the trans-European transport network which shall contribute towards the achievement of a European maritime space without barriers and shall include:
(a) Maritime links between maritime ports of the comprehensive network or between a port of the comprehensive network and a third-country port where such links are of strategic importance to the Union;
(b) Port facilities, freight terminals, logistics platforms and freight villages located outside the port area but associated with the port operations, information and communication technologies (ICT) such as electronic logistics management systems, and safety and security and administrative and customs procedures in at least one Member State;
(c) Infrastructure for direct land and sea access.
While the Commission defines the policy aspects of the Motorways of the Sea form which the eligibility criteria for funding derive, the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) as the successor of the Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency (TEN-T EA), manages the technical and financial implementation of the programme.