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Brussels, 19 October 2004

Connecting the trans-European transport network with EU neighbours: 1st meeting of the High Level Group

The High Level Group, recently established by the European Commission to identify priority transport axes connecting the major trans-European axes with the different neighbouring regions, held its first meeting in Brussels on 18 and 19 October. The Group includes representatives from all EU neighbouring countries and international financing institutions as well as from the EU Presidency. Participants to the meeting reviewed criteria for the selection of priority axes and projects and started to identify horizontal issues such as financing and efficient use of the network. “Good transport connections between the EU and its neighbours are essential for trade and economic development”, said Vice-President Loyola de Palacio in charge of energy and transport who chaired the meeting. “The Group should focus on areas where real progress can be made, for example improving the efficiency of existing infrastructure use or technical and administrative interoperability”, she added. It is foreseen that the Group will submit a first report by the end of 2004 and complete its work in the autumn of 2005.

The aim for the new High Level Group is to make proposals to the Commission on how to connect better the Union with the neighbouring countries and regions. During the meeting, the Commission reminded that financing transport investments remains a major problem worldwide. Therefore, the Group would have to look at innovative financing tools involving the private sector and user charging. The Group will also have to be very selective in the establishment of priorities.

The Commission insisted that the added value of the Group would be to analyse and identify a number of horizontal priorities related to the improvement of co-operation, to technical and administrative harmonisation, to implementation of new technologies like interoperability and traffic management systems, as well as to measures on safety and security. In the absence of such measures bottlenecks will occur especially at the cross-border sections even if infrastructure works have been completed.

In addition to representatives of the EU presidency, the High Level Group includes representatives from Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Palestinian Authority, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya (as observer), Morocco, Moldova, Norway, Russia, Serbia & Montenegro, Kosovo (under UNMIK administration), Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine. The European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank are invited as observers. Experts from the EU Member States as well as from Bulgaria and Romania also attended the first meeting.

The Commission decided to establish this Group following evidence that existing transport connections between the enlarged EU and its neighbours hardly reflect the new geopolitical situation following the enlargement. Recent studies forecast that rapid growth in trade and freight transport will continue. By 2020, the volume of inter-regional land freight traffic is expected to grow by more than 100% for traffic between the EU and its neighbours.

The Group was given its mandate at the “Wider Europe for Transport” ministerial seminar, hosted by Ms de Palacio and Mr Costa from the European Parliament, in Santiago de Compostela on 7-8 June 2004.

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