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EU transport policy

EU transport policy deals with issues that affect all EU countries - road and air traffic congestion, oil dependency and greenhouse gas emissions. It provides funding to bring transport infrastructure up to the same standard EU-wide. Another concern is enabling Europe's transport sector to compete on the fast-developing global market.

Major challenges facing the EU's transport sector

As our societies become ever more mobile, EU policy seeks to help our transport systems meet the major challenges facing them:

Two high-speed trains with the logos of various European railway companies on them © EU

New high-speed rail routes across the EU - safe, comfortable & environment-friendly

  • Congestion affects both road and air traffic. It costs Europe around 1% of annual GDP. Moreover, freight and passenger transport alike are set to increase.
  • Oil dependency – despite improvements in energy efficiency, transport still depends on oil for 96% of its energy needs. Oil will become scarcer in future decades, sourced increasingly from unstable parts of the world. By 2050, it is projected to reach more than double the 2005 price level.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions – by 2050, the EU must cut transport emissions by 60% - compared with 1990 levels - if we are to limit global warming to an increase of just 2ºC.
  • Infrastructure is uneven across the EU. For example, few eastern EU countries have purpose-built high-speed railway lines. Moreover, their conventional railway lines are often in poor condition.
  • Competition – the EU’s transport sector faces growing competition from fast-developing transport markets in other regions.

For an overview of transport statistics, see: Transport scoreboard

Transport infographics:

EU transport in figures: statistical pocketbook

EU achievements in the transport sector

Thanks to EU policy, the last 20 years have seen considerable progress in Europe's transport sector:

  • safer skies, seas & roads
  • decent working hours for people working in the transport industry
  • more transport choices for travellers & businesses
  • less pollution
  • technological progress towards cleaner transport.

20 years of achievements in transport (brochure)

Stronger competition in the EU's transport sector: impact

Road – Lorries can now operate in countries other than their country of origin, and so no longer return empty on international journeys. This new flexibility encourages competition, drives up the quality of both freight and passenger services, cuts costs and makes journeys more efficient, thereby reducing pollution. Uniform technical standards have also improved safety levels.

Air – Flying is becoming easier and cheaper, with new airlines, more routes and hundreds of services connecting large numbers of airports across Europe. The EU's Single European Sky will help that trend continue. "Open skies" agreements allow any EU airline to fly from any EU airport to a city in another country. These agreements also exist with the US, Canada, Israel, the Western Balkans, Morocco, Jordan, Georgia and Moldova – and more are on the way.

Rail – Any licensed rail company can now offer its services anywhere in the EU. The high-speed rail network has expanded rapidly in recent years, saving passengers time and money. Further improvements are on the way.

Maritime – 75% of Europe’s trade with other countries and 40% of freight within Europe is moved by sea, and some 400 million passengers use European waterways every year. Opening up the maritime market has allowed shipping companies to operate and move freely in countries other than their country of origin. In 2014 the Council and the European Parliament agreed to promote by 2025 the development of a core network of liquefied natural gas refuelling points at the key maritime ports making up the trans-European network, plus shore-side electricity supply.

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Road, air & maritime safety

  • The number of deaths on Europe’s roads halved between 1992 and 2010 (falling from 70 000 to 31 000). Between 2010 and 2013, the figure fell by a further 17%. This means the EU is on track to achieve its strategic goal of halving road deaths again by 2020.
  • Unsafe airlines are banned from flying in Europe.
  • Tighter rules on maritime safety include tougher ship inspections, penalties for pollution caused through gross negligence, and faster phasing-out of single-hulled tankers.
  • The EU sets safety and security standards and only funds new infrastructure projects that meet those standards.
  • The EU works with organisations like the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization to promote safety and security standards in the rest of the world.

Smart, sustainable transport

Traffic in London city centre © Shutterstock

London - the first capital to charge motorists for entering its central district.

The EU supports research and the effective deployment of new green transport technologies. New EU legislation will expand the number of alternative refuelling points across Europe by setting out uniform standards for their design and use, including a standard plug for recharging electric vehicles.

Transport infrastructure & funding

A key aim of the EU's Trans-European Networks policy is to establish a network of different means of transport, thus linking major cities and bringing the EU's western and eastern regions closer together. Other important aims are to help even out gaps in prosperity and limit climate change.

Transport infrastructure is funded by the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), which has a budget of up to €50 bn for 2014-2020. This will help create efficient, sustainable and properly integrated trans-European networks for transport, energy, broadband, and digital services.

In addition to public funding, we need a new approach to transport charges to create a fair financial environment, reflecting the "polluter pays" and "user pays" principles.



Updated in November 2014

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series


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