Six months in the EU driver’s seat
By Henrik Dam Kristensen (*) | Thursday 05 July 2012
These days, we take for granted that we can travel across borders to our EU neighbours without having to queue at passport control in the airports or at the border. The free movement is a fundamental part of many Europeans’ daily lives. For that reason, it is easy to forget that things haven’t always been like this.
In the same way that national borders literally were barriers to movement, they still form some obstacles in the policy field I’m responsible for: transport. Traditionally, transport networks and systems have been national matters and focus has been on meeting national needs, which makes pretty good sense. Often the amount of money invested in infrastructure is large, so naturally this has to benefit the tax payers. In the recent decades, cross-border mobility in Europe has increased significantly, and for that reason the need for focusing on transport in a European perspective has also increased. Our economy depends on good transport connections. Accordingly, we need to work towards a genuine European transport system, where the connections between countries are strengthened.
Against this background, I am very pleased that the Danish EU Presidency produced some concrete results, which may prove to be seminal for the realisation of a coherent European transport system. Particularly, two proposals are regarded by many as milestones: the new guidelines for the Trans-European Transport Network, TEN-T, and the establishment of the fund Connecting Europe Facility. Both will be central tools in linking Europe better together. The two proposals, on which the EU transport ministers agreed upon during our Presidency, are closely interlinked. The new TEN-T guidelines define a future European transport network. The guidelines pinpoint essential road and railway stretches across Europe along with the most important ports and airports as well as central transport routes on the European rivers. All together, it is called the Trans-European Transport Network. We have a common goal in the EU to make it as easy as possible to travel across borders on the Trans-European Transport Network. Accordingly, it is necessary to alleviate bottlenecks and close the gaps, which can be found in some places along the network.
In accordance with the new TEN-T guidelines, the member states are obliged to upgrade certain infrastructure in the coming decade. In this way, we are able to prevent that large investments carried out in one country lose value because the neighbouring country does not prioritise its share of the Trans-European Transport Network. Especially the European railways are still struggling with leftovers from the national approach to transport of yesteryear. Usually, operators have to change locomotive in order to cross national borders. This is due to the more than 20 different signalling systems, which are currently in use in the EU. In accordance with the new TEN-T guidelines, the member states must implement the EU’s common railway signalling system, ERTMS, on the central railway stretches on the Trans-European Transport Network. Denmark has made great progress in this regard: as the first country in Europe, we have decided to implement ERTMS on the entire national railway network. In total, investments amounting to approximately €2.4 billion are planned to be carried out up until 2021. For this reason, it is of course vital for us that our neighbouring countries follow suit and implement ERTMS, so that trains to and from Denmark can cross borders without any obstacles.
In a time of economic crisis, it can be difficult to find the money on the state budgets for investments in infrastructure. Therefore, it is a key point that projects, which will strengthen the TEN-T network, will be eligible to receive financial support in form of EU funds. The authorities will hereby be able to apply for co-financing of specific project proposals. In this way, money from the EU budget may actually be instrumental in realising projects, which would not be possible in a time with many national budgets being under pressure. This is where the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) enters the picture, as the CEF defines the mechanisms of the allocation of EU funds to transport projects. In the coming year, the EU member states must, in connection to the general budget negotiations, agree upon the amount of EU funds to be allocated to the CEF between 2014 and 2020. It will be a matter of several billion euro, so it certainly has the potential to make a great difference.
It is vital that we derive the maximum benefit from our investments in infrastructure by utilising the advantages of the European transport network as efficiently as possible. That is why it is essential that we have the proper legislative framework for the day-to-day operations in the transport sector in the EU. In this area, the Danish EU Presidency has also managed to achieve great results. During the Danish EU Presidency, the EU transport ministers have agreed upon two proposals, which are to ensure more efficient airports in the EU. One of these proposals will create the framework for a more efficient passenger service in the airports, eg in terms of baggage handling, via deregulation of groundhandling services. The other proposal provides the framework for decreasing the number of EU citizens exposed to noise from our airports in the future, while ensuring that the sector remains competitive in an international context. In the coming years, the number of passengers in the European airports will increase significantly. With these two results, the Danish EU Presidency has helped to ensure that the European airports will be able to respond to the challenges that the aviation sector will face in the future.
New technological solutions have gained ground in the transport sector. For example, many people benefit from using satellite navigation in their cars, thus being able to move quicker from A to B. During the Danish Presidency, we also managed to reach an important result in regards to the EU’s new common satellite navigation system, Galileo. The EU transport ministers adopted a solid framework for the Galileo programme, which is to ensure that the programme will be fully operational by 2020. Through Galileo, EU citizens as well as businesses will have access to a more precise and reliable service, which will also benefit the transport sector. In this way, Galileo will become an important tool in order to reap the maximum benefit of the capacity on the Trans-European Transport Network.
When I have spoken to my fellow ministers, representatives from the European Commission and members of the European Parliament in Brussels and Luxembourg, many have expressed what great accomplishments the Danish EU Presidency has reached in the field of transport. Like myself, people are convinced that the results that we have reached together during the Presidency are milestones towards realising our shared objective of a single European transport system. I think that this is something we can be proud of.
(*) Henrik Dam Kristensen is Denmark’s minister for transport
The Danish EU Presidency has sped up the development of a European transport system