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Vice-President of the European Commission
Connecting Europe: the next stage
British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium/Brussels
1 October 2013
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests
In 2013, Europe reached a transport milestone. We are ready to embark on a new era in infrastructure. We now have the tools to modernise and integrate today’s transport patchwork of national parts into a smooth-running network.
We are in a position, at last, to connect East, West and all corners of Europe - and make the best use of all the different means of travel. As you know, this is thanks to the successful conclusion of negotiations on the EU’s next seven-year budget and the revised policy for the Trans-European Transport Network.
These pave the way for building a modern integrated transport system that can meet the challenges we face in sustainable, smart and inclusive growth - and help to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.
For transport, around €26 billion will be available from the EU budget to complement national investments for developing the TEN-T. This is a significant increase from the previous seven-year financing period.
In practical terms, the next stage is to get things moving on the ground.
That means organising calls for tender, assessing financing applications and project proposals to make sure that only the best projects receive EU funding.
Development plans will have to be worked out for the new core network corridors. We will have to consider how best to deploy different traffic management systems like ERTMS and SESAR for rail and aviation networks and how to integrate them into a single European transport area.
But this is not about simply spending the cash.
The emphasis for the future of European transport should be to make sure that this ambitious programme for infrastructure development is guided by a real Connecting Europe Philosophy.
This echoes one of the European Union’s founding principles: to create a space for free and fair economic activity, without barriers or bureaucracy.
In turn, this helps European businesses to stay competitive, at home and in the global marketplace.
Certainly, the physical and technical barriers must be removed, the bottlenecks eliminated and missing links filled in, especially between East and West where transport connections are particularly weak.
This is vital if we are to build a seamless supply chain to benefit all Europeans – people and business – by linking them across a vast geographical area.
At the moment, for example, it is not easy to take a smooth and direct rail connection between Brussels and Berlin. There are similar problems travelling between Berlin and Warsaw.
Further east, the Baltic States have poor links to more central parts of Europe.
Sub-optimal connections like these undermine economic growth and trade flows, in and between countries as well as entire regions.
Guaranteeing open and fair competition in transport markets is equally important. It provides a base of unified conditions where everyone can compete in the European single market with no distortions across the Member States.
Of course, EU transport policy is also about looking after the travelling public and bringing them tangible benefits in areas that matter to them: comfort and quality of service, reliability, punctuality, safety and cost – which is the bottom line for ticket-buying passengers.
Let me give you a couple of concrete examples where our policies are helping to achieve this: joining up networks and removing barriers and bottlenecks.
In aviation: inefficiencies caused by Europe's fragmented airspace bring extra costs of around €5 billion a year. On average, in Europe, aircraft fly more than 40 kilometres per trip longer than strictly necessary.
The result? Longer flight time, delays, extra fuel burn and more CO2 emissions.
These extra costs get passed onto business and ultimately, to passengers.
This is why we embarked on the Single European Sky project some 10 years ago, to sort out these and other problems.
On railways, we are working hard to get the modern high-performance ERTMS management system deployed across Europe. This will mean faster, safer and more efficient travel by rail, including across national EU borders.
Today, for trains to run on other networks not using ERTMS, the locomotives must be changed at the border, often taking at least 30 minutes. Or they must be equipped with different on-board systems compatible with the track systems used by the different networks.
It costs a lot more to run trains like this. Passengers eventually pay the extra bill.
Ladies and gentlemen
Networks are the arteries of trade – and EU transport policy is based on trying to make them as smooth and joined-up as possible.
But it represents much more than that.
It is also a development strategy that binds together our remoter regions, cities and towns. It facilitates access to a huge market that is sometimes physically distant: the unified trading space of Europe's 500 million consumers.
For the Baltic states, nothing could be more important – politically and economically. I know this myself very well, coming from a country located on the edge of the European Union. Countries on the geographical periphery always benefit from better links to the centre.
We need to prevent an increasingly interconnected Western Europe from leaving behind a more thinly populated Eastern Europe. We should also go further, by integrating our Eastern Partnership neighbours into Europe’s transport network.
Speaking as an Estonian, I can say this has been one of the principles underlying my approach to transport policy during my time as European Transport Commissioner. It is the philosophy behind transport projects such as Rail Baltica, for example. This will be the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in the history of the Baltic States.
When it is built, this important transport corridor will bring all the major cities along its route into closer collaboration. It will boost trade for the whole Baltic region. It will benefit a large amount of Europe as well, because Rail Baltica will link the three Baltic States, Finland and Poland into the planned Adriatic Corridor which stretches down through central Europe as far as Venice.
Freedom of movement is a cornerstone of European liberty and a massive achievement. It changes and opens minds. But it's also something that we tend to take for granted.
We need transport to guarantee this freedom. Transport enables goods to be distributed efficiently and people to travel freely.
Recent history in some of the EU's newer Member States – you could take my own as an example – reminds us that ease of travel is not always a given.
I myself have strong memories of growing up behind the former Iron Curtain, where people needed a passport just to move around inside their own country. So I firmly believe in freedom of movement.
That means more and improved infrastructure to create strong transport corridors – air, rail, road and sea – to facilitate the flow of goods, business and people across borders.
To conclude: that is the real and ultimate goal of EU transport policy. It is to bring the peoples and economies of Europe closer together - east and west, as well as north and south – in a genuine single European transport area.
This builds on, and goes further, than the development strategy I just mentioned. It explains the philosophy and thinking behind the transport infrastructure and networks that we are planning to build.
We are all Europeans so I think we should try and think beyond purely national interests, and ‘think European’ - think about what we can do so that all Europeans benefit.
Thank you for your attention.