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Speech - A new era for European transport: filling the gaps, joining East and West

Date: 12/11/2013

The Vice-President of the European Commission Siim Kallas delivered a speech on 17th October 2013 about the progress made in the last 20 years to improve travel links between the centre of Europe and countries on the geographical edge. He stressed that however, we are now in the 21st century, and that there still is a long way to go as there are still numerous missing links between the entire western and eastern halves of the European Union, and elsewhere as well.

Mr Kallas spoke about making the best use of transport as a development strategy to bind together the countries, cities and towns in the most efficient and sustainable way possible, as well as to bring the peoples and economies of Europe closer together.

Ministers, ladies and gentlemen: welcome to Tallinn!

I am delighted to see the entire Trans-European Transport Network community represented here today.

While I can assure everyone that Tallinn is a beautiful, interesting and worthwhile city to visit, I imagine not all of you have found it as easy to travel here as to some other EU capital cities.

There are historical reasons for this - and we have been working hard to rectify the situation.

A great deal of progress has been made in the last 20 years to improve travel links between the centre of Europe and countries on the geographical edge - like Estonia. But we are now in the 21st century, and there still is a long way to go.

It’s not just about Tallinn - or indeed Riga or Vilnius, from where I know some of you have just arrived by train. And rest assured: there will be a dramatic improvement in that particular rail service when the planned Rail Baltica high-speed line gets built, which will largely be thanks to EU policy and funding.

There are still numerous missing links between the entire western and eastern halves of the European Union, and elsewhere as well.
It’s time to get Europe better connected - especially its remoter regions, which always benefit from better links to the geographic centre.
That goes to the heart of my own approach to transport policy: to make the best use of transport as a development strategy to bind together our countries, cities and towns in the most efficient and sustainable way possible.

But it’s also so much more. For me, the ultimate goal of EU transport policy is to bring the peoples and economies of Europe closer together.
Apart from being held in my home city, this year’s TEN-T Days is important for another reason. This is a pivotal moment for European transport. We can start to map out its future for the next few decades. Concretely, not just in theory.

As you know, this is thanks to the agreements on the new TEN-T regulation and the Connecting Europe Facility. These new regulations will completely change Europe’s approach to transport infrastructure. In many ways, they open the door to the future of European transport.
They are the means for financing and building a modern integrated transport system that can meet the challenges that Europe faces in sustainable, smart and inclusive growth.

They will help us to strengthen Europe’s growth and global competitiveness, because we will not prosper without good transport connections.
This is not an exaggeration.

  • we have put a new system of innovative financing into place;
  • we have developed a solid philosophy about how to connect Europe properly;
  • we aim to make the best combined use of all forms of transport – railways, roads, rivers, connecting with airports;
  • we will also link them properly with ports. Our many seaports are vital for trade: they truly are Europe’s windows to the world;
  • we will improve and enhance east-west connections through the corridors.

Let me offer just one example of my vision for the future.

A truck drives a short distance to deliver cargo to a terminal for onward transportation by train, air or ship. Then, on arrival, a similar short distance by truck to the end-destination. The first and last few kilometres are covered by truck; the rest by rail, inland waterway or sea - or a combination.
As a freight journey, it is relatively straightforward. More importantly, it’s quick, joined-up, clean and efficient.

It makes good use of combined transport resources; it interweaves them in a seamless logistics chain, all to be linked by electronic information flows. The same principle applies to passenger travel.

I have no doubt that we can achieve such a transport scenario in the years ahead.

This is a complete change in thinking and approach, accompanied by a strong focus on innovation and new technologies. The efficiency gains will bring huge benefit to Europe’s citizens and businesses just in cost and time savings alone. European transport infrastructure policy has undergone a true paradigm shift.

We have shifted the focus from individual projects onto a core network of strategic corridors that will join East and West and all corners of a vast geographical area – from Portugal to Finland, from the coast of Scotland to the shores of the Black Sea.

We have consulted widely; we have analysed and prioritised. The result is a coherent plan for building infrastructure. Now all we have to do is to make it happen!

Ladies and gentlemen: this is the start of a new era for European transport and its infrastructure. It is a milestone that we have reached by taking the long-term vision that I expressed in 2011 - in the Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – and bringing it a good deal closer to reality.
And the reality that is before us today is that, at last, we have the instruments to carry that vision through. We are in a position to transform Europe’s existing patchwork of national roads, railways, airports and canals into a unified pan-European network.

Knitting together various forms of transport in the smoothest and most sustainable way, getting rid of bottlenecks, filling in missing links, ensuring technical compatibility across the network to guarantee smooth traffic flows.

There is a lot to do and it can’t all be done overnight.

In practical terms, the next stage is to get things moving on the ground.

That means organising calls for tender, assessing financing applications and project proposals to make sure that only the best projects receive EU funding.
Work plans will have to be worked out for the nine new core network corridors that are essential for implementing the TEN-T vision.
Financing is another part of our shift in approach to transport infrastructure.

A major change from the past is that we now have a dedicated infrastructure fund: the Connecting Europe Facility.

This is a real ‘first’ for transport, and also for energy and telecommunications. It is one of the most innovative parts of the EU’s next seven-year budget programme. It is a highly visible and cohesive financing instrument that focuses financing on the tightly defined core network.
EU financing for transport has tripled to €26 billion for the period 2014-2020. And we have attractive co-financing rates of up to 85 % of the project costs.
That increase was endorsed by EU leaders at a time when many wanted to cut the budget. It shows the wide political acceptance of the fact that improved transport is important – essential - for Europe’s future.

The CEF is the guarantee that the necessary investments will be made and the infrastructure that Europe needs will get built. And as market appetite for infrastructure investment gradually revives, we expect transport’s allocation to generate significant leveraged cash input from the private sector.
The CEF is the best example of European ‘added value’ that the EU budget can deliver. It puts EU resources into projects that will help raise the competitiveness of the whole of Europe.

Without CEF funding, due to their international nature and high costs, many major cross-border transport links will simply not be started – let alone completed.

Rail Baltica is just one example of this.

Ladies and gentlemen

Today in Tallinn, the TEN-T community has come together under one roof.

This is an occasion where the EU can help to facilitate - and hopefully inspire – cooperation and coordination between different transport sectors, different regions, different Member States.

It’s why the TEN-T Days event has become such a valuable tradition.

By their very nature, the new corridors will continue this process and philosophy. Why? Their entire design, the entire "raison d’être" of the new TEN-T, has the purpose of linking different forms of transport to create a seamless and unified whole: the single European transport area.
I cannot stress enough how important the corridors are.

They are the basis for integrating transport, ensuring interoperability and the coordinated development and management of infrastructure. They will allow investments and infrastructure work to be synchronised.

This is the EU’s added value.

If we can link regions, countries – East and West – then this can only drive competitiveness for everyone in Europe, to the benefit of citizens and business.
Transport should be seen as investment in our future growth.

It does not, and should not, stop at borders. And that is what European transport policy is all about.

I now proudly present to you the map of the new network corridors that will shape Europe’s future transport network.

Thank you for your attention.

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