Other available languages: none
Vice-President and Commissioner for Transport
Challenges ahead for a sustainable transport in Europe
Speech at the Joint EESC-EC Conference on the White Paper on Transport
Economic and Social Committee, Brussels, 5 December 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am happy to be here today at this joint conference organised by the European Economic and Social Committee and the European Commission to talk about the future of European transport and the challenges ahead.
Transport is the cornerstone of any country's economy and heart of its supply chain, driving economic growth and creating employment. It links people together and guarantees them their fundamental right to freedom of movement.
Transport is also vital for opening up markets, developing trade and connecting businesses. Without solid and efficient transport connections, we cannot prosper or remain competitive: economically speaking, we would be going nowhere.
There are, however, some major challenges ahead which we cannot avoid and which will alter the business landscape for decades to come. So we need to act now, to prepare a sustainable European transport network for the future.
I firmly believe that innovation and investment are the keys to maintaining competitiveness, so that we keep as much ahead of its lower-cost rivals as possible. To be honest, we cannot afford to lag behind.
We depend too much on oil as a fuel source, particularly for road transport. Given the likely difficulties in sourcing oil in the future, the constant market volatility and sky-high prices, it makes sense to research and develop innovative - and cleaner - alternatives.
The EU also has to take this step to meet its targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. To achieve that, transport will have to make deep cuts in its own emissions over the medium term.
If we fail to act in a considered and effective way now, the economic and geopolitical impact will be immense. There is a definite potential downside if we stand still or "go slow".
We would become vulnerable in terms of fuel security and fail to do our part in limiting climate change. We would also hamper our own efforts to rid Europe's cities, roads, railways and skies of one of their worst problems: congestion.
These are serious challenges, and not just for the European Union. Urbanisation will continue; demand for travel in, and into, cities will grow. And so will the overall demand for transport – freight transport alone is forecast to increase by 80% by 2050.
Research and innovation are essential for the future and for sustainable growth. But they will not be enough to solve all the problems. Ultimately, we have to improve transport efficiency. And that is also about better logistics and smarter 'travel behaviour'.
We should think of transport more as a network, not just in terms of individual modes of travel – combining or replacing road travel with a "cleaner option" like rail or waterborne transport, for example. Integrated ticketing and journey, or freight, planners are excellent ways to promote this.
Shifting the type of transport use is a core element of the Commission's recent White Paper, and represents a major change in focus and attitude.
Just one example: we have set targets for 30% of road freight over 300 km to transfer to other transport modes such as rail or waterborne by 2030, and more than 50% by 2050 – though I should point out that given the likely large increase in total freight volumes, road traffic will certainly still grow.
If we do not work towards achieving targets like these, it will be difficult – if not impossible - to decarbonise Europe's transport system. We only have to look at the pollution caused by long-distance vehicles carrying freight on the roads instead of by rail, to see the problem. But if we manage to decarbonise, at the same time we will be making better use of our cities by reducing congestion and making them cleaner places to live.
As you know, for me, curbing mobility is not an option.
But to be able to keep it this way we must follow the course set out in the White Paper, we must be pro-active in dealing with the challenges, and not reactive, when it may already be too late.
Innovation, infrastructure and investment – the three "i's" – are the keys for achieving this, because they help to improve efficiency.
With innovation, for example, intelligent transport systems can contribute significantly in making our road transport ready for the future, as well as safer.
There is enormous potential, and that's why we are investing heavily in research and development to make sure that Europe stays at the cutting edge of technological advances in transport. This will be an important aspect of Horizon 2020, the EU’s future research programme (that the Commission proposed last week).
Designing and building the necessary infrastructure will be an expensive and lengthy task, so we need to start work on this now. We need investment to upgrade and make the best use of existing and planned new capacity.
Funding to carry this out should also be 'smart', to give us flexible tools to diversify and optimise our limited financial resources.
The Connecting Europe Facility proposed for the next budget period, from 2014 to 2020, offers several innovative financing tools such as project bonds to optimise cash impact. It will provide a great deal of funding to fill in the gaps in our transport network, strengthening the backbone of the internal market.
But given these times of fiscal belt-tightening and budget austerity across Europe, some of the funding will have to come from infrastructure users themselves: 'smart pricing' means that the paying user gets a better service in exchange – less congestion, more information, more safety.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Improving efficiency is also about making the best use of capacity. Aviation is a good example.
Today, our skies are saturated and we face a "capacity crunch" both in the air and on the ground, given that demand for air travel is set to nearly double by 2020. Europe's existing airport capacity is approaching the limit of what is acceptable and to what will be needed in the future.
We are tackling both issues. For the air, through the Single European Sky project to make more cost-efficient use of highly fragmented airspace; and for airports, by revising EU rules for slots, groundhandling and noise.
In the rail sector, there are some similar problems.
I would be happy to see rail – a clean and attractive mode of travel – assume a far larger share of EU transport demand. But this is the most nationally fragmented and conservative transport sector that we have. For rail to thrive, it needs a real single market that properly responds to further capacity demands.
Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude:
This is not only about accepting the need to invest hard cash in the future of transport, it is also about accepting a necessary change in emphasis and thinking, about how we travel. It can no longer be 'business as usual'.
I hope that this conference will help transport users across Europe to 'buy into' our policy objectives.
Transport, for all of us - people and business - must be sustainable in the longer term if we are to cope responsibly with the inevitable challenges I mentioned earlier.
To do that, we cannot let the grass grow under our feet. We need to start changing, and acting, now.
Thank you for your attention.