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Trans-European networks: towards an integrated approach
The transport, energy and telecommunications infrastructures have been designed on national lines and need to be harmonised, connected and integrated into the wider European context via the Trans-European Networks (TENs). At the same time, environmental concerns require the design and layout of the infrastructures to be reworked. Consequently, the European Commission assessed the TENs in 2006 and is now delivering the findings of the steering group responsible for examining a possible joint approach to TENs.
Commission Communication of 21 March 2007 to the Council and the European Parliament entitled: "Trans-European Networks: Towards an integrated approach" [COM(2007) 135 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The trans-European networks (TENs) constitute an ambitious and essential objective for the competitiveness of the European Union and therefore for growth and jobs. Several major industrial programmes such as GALILEO, ERTMS and SESAR are following the logic of Europeanisation of transport infrastructures, often designed only according to national requirements.
Sustainable use of resources is a key element in TEN policy, since the most environmentally-friendly procedures enjoy a privileged status amongst the priority projects.
Assessment of TENs in 2006
The completion of 30 priority transport projects is behind schedule as the new, very costly infrastructures required have not been granted sufficient resources. The network is still incomplete, with investments of EUR 160 billion needed to finance the priority projects alone for the financial programming period 2007-2013. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund remain the principal sources of Community intervention, and the European Investment Bank ( ) will continue to fund the infrastructures via its loans and a specific Guarantee Instrument.
The Community has recently adopted guidelines aimed at updating the trans-European energy networks (Decision No 1364/2006/EC). Some 42 projects, including 10 relating to gas networks, have been declared of European interest. The EU must invest at least EUR 30 billion in infrastructures between now and 2013. Between 2000 and 2006, approximately EUR 140 million was invested in the trans-European energy networks under the TEN budget. A figure of EUR 155 million has been earmarked for the financial period 2007-2013. The Commission has stressed here again, however, that the allocated amounts are limited in light of the issues at stake and actual requirements.
Investments in telecommunications are currently focused on modernising existing networks. The Commission has highlighted the disparities between urban and rural areas (already identified in its communication entitled Bridging the Broadband Gap) and invites the Member States to take concrete measures and define goals for reducing these differences by 2010. Public aid is encouraged in the event of market failure, in strict compliance with telecommunications and State aid regulations. A map of the infrastructures is needed to help the competent authorities assess their requirements and take advantage of ongoing civil engineering work.
Towards an integrated approach: the findings of the steering group
The steering group set up on 20 July 2005 at the request of the Commission has examined the possible synergies between the trans-European networks along with methods of funding and potential distribution. It has established that combinations of rail and road networks have shown themselves to be of significant value (more efficient use of space, reduced costs and environmental impact) and there are definite advantages in linking the two types of TEN. Synergies between the transport and telecommunications networks seem the most promising and ways of interconnecting the electricity networks are also worth exploring.
The steering group also underlined the potential environmental benefits of integrating the TEN. In fact, the 30 priority projects involving the trans-European transport network largely favour methods of transport which are more fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly, such as rail or water. Interconnections between the national energy networks and connections with renewable energy sources will also optimise the use of available capacities in each Member State, thus reducing the environmental impact.
The steering group recommends:
- continuing research into synergies between the TENs with the aim of producing and circulating a manual of good practices, and developing synergies between the objectives of cohesion policy and the priorities adopted in the TEN context;
- evaluating the need for alternative solutions for availability payments over several financial periods and making appropriate legislative proposals if necessary;
- monitoring the development of public-private partnerships and promoting this type of funding;
- completing TEN priority projects on schedule while ensuring the application of environmental law.
A midterm review of the 2001 White Paper on transport policy acknowledges the role of new information and communication technologies in ensuring that people and goods can travel safely and sustainably. Numerous schemes, including the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITSs), the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and the European satellite navigation project GALILEO, represent effective tools for increasing safety and reducing congestion and environmental impact.
The group thus recommends that investments in the ITSs be integrated, from the early planning stages, into all new trans-European transport network (TEN-T) projects.
Legal clarification on non-cumulation of Community funds
The steering group concluded that there must be no possibility of cumulation of subsidies from several Community funds and has confirmed the need to maintain a consistent approach across the various legal instruments. Thus, when granting aid under the TEN arrangements, the Commission will check whether or not the projects have already received aid from the Structural or Cohesion Funds.
According to the steering group, delays in the priority transport projects are largely due to difficulties in reconciling the rules for granting Community subsidies from the TEN budget with the actual financial needs of the projects. The new TEN regulation should make it easier to part-finance the major cross-border projects, which are technically and financially complex.
The steering group also stressed the advantages of funding by public-private partnerships (PPP), and the benefits of a European Guarantee Instrument (provided by the EIB) to encourage the PPPs to fund the TEN-Ts. Such a system could help to lessen the risks linked to insufficient revenue during the initial years of operation of a project, and generate a considerable lever effect.
Based on the availability risk, PPPs will also form an integral part of the forms of subsidies eligible for Community financial support under the new regulation on transport and energy TENs.