Connecting Europe – For a Common Infrastructure Strategy

On 1 July, Germany takes over the EU Council Presidency and faces a major agenda. [Part 2]

The EU needs a European infrastructure strategy. Growth, jobs and prosperity for Europe’s citizens are created and advanced through real or digital, traditional and modern infrastructures. That’s not all: infrastructure provides states and regions with security and citizens with educational opportunities and health protection. In the geostrategic conflicts of the 21st century, infrastructure is a target of political disputes through direct attacks or economic takeovers.

The European Union must respond to these multiple challenges in a tailored manner. This includes – a central lesson of the Corona crisis – a modern health and disaster protection system that operates beyond borders. The establishment of joint stockpiles of critical medical devices and medicines is just as necessary as regular and effective training to avert dangerous situations. The Member States have a wealth of unique and high-quality experience and equipment in the field of health and civil protection. They must be carefully linked for the efficient and effective protection of Europe.

Planning, Financing and Operating Core Infrastructure on the European Level

The EU must develop a nuclear infrastructure that is planned, financed and operated at a European level. A network of European hubs for airports, ports, railway stations and transport lines must be developed and planned. Europe will be able to grow together faster and more closely, ecologically and economically, beyond national or regional egoisms. A holistic infrastructure strategy also means that infrastructure that is regarded as critical for geopolitical reasons, be it digital networks or ports, can be maintained with European funds.

Trans-European transport networks are visible and tangible manifestations of European cooperation for the citizens of the Union: they contribute significantly to social, economic and territorial cohesion within the EU and are an expression of the freedom of movement. They are also an indispensable prerequisite and an integral part of a functioning European internal market from which all EU citizens benefit personally and as a community. Ultimately, they reflect everything the European Union stands for: they are the backbone of the common market, increase the mobility of EU citizens, and enable economic and job growth through sustainable transport of goods. However, the expansion, conversion and new construction of functional transport corridors always poses problems. For example, the duration of approval and construction projects differs across European countries. Cumbersome administrative procedures and regulatory uncertainty lead to massive delays and increased costs in the implementation of construction projects. This applies not only to motorways, but also to railways, shipping channels and air traffic. To date, the “European Single Sky” initiative has not been implemented. Another negative example is the connection of the port of Rotterdam to the German rail network: In the Netherlands, the planning process began 25 years ago, and for the past 15 years, the line has been completed up to the German border. Meanwhile, the German connecting line is still in the planning process.

Solving Infrastructure Bottlenecks

The Union guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network, which came into force in 2013, contain community guidelines for the development of approximately 58,000 km of highways, approximately 70,000 km of railways and approximately 12,000 km of inland waterways within a time horizon of 2030 for the core network – i.e. the main corridors – and 2050 for the entire network. Only a fraction of this has been implemented so far.

In order to complete transport links, EU funding should therefore be allocated to necessary projects and not according to national quotas. In order to achieve the greatest possible added value with limited financial resources, the European transport strategy should focus on existing bottlenecks, missing links and cross-border projects. It is in line with the EU’s priorities to take the fight against climate change into account as an objective when building new transport infrastructure. Here, Europe can become a global leader with highly efficient and low-emission transport networks.

Creating and Implementing European Planning Regulations

The necessary creation and use of European planning regulations could lead to conflicts in Member States, both with the local population and with national and regional planning authorities. It would therefore be all the more important to use the German EU Council Presidency to tackle the harmonisation of procedures and technical standards and at the same time to reduce reservations about ceding planning procedures of pan-European interest to a supranational authority. The proposals of the EU Commission to accelerate the approval and regulation processes are a first step in the right direction.

Connecting Peripheral Regions, Simplifying Cross-Border Solutions

In order to establish and ensure equal opportunities within Europe, it is of paramount importance to improve access to the core network for all regions, thus promoting the economic development of peripheral and border regions. The EU Commission proposes to simplify the procedures for cross-border cooperation on transport routes so that missing links can be built quickly. This is right and important, but subsidiarity and proportionality must play their part. A good example of European cooperation in this respect are the cross-border invitations to tender in regional rail transport, which are being planned by the Grand-Est region in France with the neighbouring German Federal States and concern routes to Karlsruhe, Saarbrücken and Trier.