Speech - South-Med: The role of transport in regional cooperation
European Commission - SPEECH/13/926 14/11/2013
Other available languages: none
European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
South-Med: The role of transport in regional cooperation
Union for Mediterranean Transport Ministerial Conference, Brussels
14 November 2013
Dear Ministers, Dear Secretary General, Dear Vice President of the European Investment Bank, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to participate in this first Union for the Mediterranean Ministerial Meeting in Brussels, marking the next step in the process successfully re-launched in September through the Paris UfM Conference on Women.
The return to regular Ministerial Meetings is a positive sign from both political and practical point of view. Politically it proves that we are back where we should be – working for the future of the Mediterranean region. Despite - or rather because - of the continuing conflicts in the region, regional cooperation and dialogue remain more important than ever. In this context, I am glad to welcome the representative of the new Libya to this conference. It is important that all partners see the UfM as their instrument.
Practically it is equally important, as ideas shared at these meetings can be translated into cooperation and concrete projects on the ground. And the cooperation should be regional, as we are faced with challenges to which no single country can find the adequate answers.
8 years is a long time. Yet, it is 8 years since the December 2005 Marrakech meeting; the last Ministerial meeting of the European Union and other Mediterranean countries, dedicated to transport. Today we are meeting:
• to take stock of the work done since the last meeting;
• to analyse the situation taking into account the profound changes happening in the Mediterranean region; and
• more importantly - to look to the future.
If there was ever a time when a collective effort and joint work was needed in the Mediterranean, it is now. This is what is expected of us and this is what is needed by our societies.
As specialists, you well know why transport is so important for business and for industrial competitiveness. But let me underline why it is important in a wider context.
• It is crucial for proper functioning of societies, their security and development.
• It is especially a powerful vehicle for increasing trade volumes and contributing to the establishment of a common economic space that we hope to establish gradually over the years, ultimately serving to the sustainable economic growth and creation of jobs.
• It is important to develop the links between the Southern Mediterranean neighbours themselves. There is great untapped potential for greater regional cooperation and integration in the Southern Mediterranean.
• It is a catalyst for mobility and freedom, the core values of our partnership in the Mediterranean region.
Dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Actions matter, not words. We have not wasted time since the last meeting in 2005. We successfully agreed and then implemented the first Regional Transport Action Plan. I am particularly satisfied that this was made possible with the help of the European Union. Our technical assistance contributed both to the regulatory convergence as well as to infrastructure development efforts. The Neighbourhood Investment Facility (the so-called NIF) provided almost €350 million for projects in the Southern Mediterranean. Together with loans from European public finance institutions of around €3.5 billion, this strategic use of European Union grants and loans has unlocked total financing of at least €8 billion!
A large part of these funds was dedicated to the transport sector. Among the most important projects, the Neighbourhood Investment Facility supported:
• improving the accessibility of more than 3 million people living in rural areas of Morocco,
• modernising railway connections in Tunisia; and
• contributing to the development of a new safe underground system in Cairo.
Such mobilisation of funds was possible due to the combined effort of many institutions: the European Union and the International Financial Institutions, in particular the European Investment Bank. All were active in the region throughout all these years. And they all deserve praise for their quick adaptation to the new needs arising in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Looking ahead, let me stress three points:
First - prioritising. Jointly agreeing on a common list of priority projects is a first step to demonstrate the strong support of all public stakeholders. The Mediterranean Partner Countries have a key role in this process by defining their needs and their commitment to deliver.
Second, we are well aware of the extremely high costs of infrastructure projects. Although European Union instruments, including the Neighbourhood Investment Facility, will still have significant funds over the forthcoming programming period 2014-2020, public resources may not be enough for our needs. Our projects need to be of high-quality so that they can attract financing from a wide variety of sources. All possible funding synergies must be maximised and we must look for complementary sources, like
• national co-funding;
• blending European Union grants with loans from international financial institutions;
• cooperating with regional investment banks; and
• making extensive use of public-private partnerships.
We are encouraging all partners to pay particular attention to creating and maintaining favourable conditions for attracting private investors and securing investments in their countries. Through the ISMED initiative (Investment Security In the Mediterranean) the Commission has been developing tools with the OECD and World Bank to provide technical assistance and advise to the benefit of partner countries and investors in large scale projects. The European Union can also offer support on regulatory aspects through Technical Assistance, twinning and TAIEX (Technical Assistance and Information Exchange instrument).
Third, let us make the best use of the Union for the Mediterranean. The Secretariat of this organisation, so well steered by the Secretary General Mr Fathallah Sijilmassi, has been intensively working in the field of transport. The Union for the Mediterranean has demonstrated that it is an important partner in mobilising investors and securing the commitment of donors and International Financial Institutions to the funding of infrastructure projects in the region. I call on all partners to work closely with the Secretariat for the financing of the future priority projects.
Dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our task today is to provide the political support and guidance, assuring that legal, commercial and economic conditions are in place for the establishment of our grand vision of the Trans-Mediterranean Transport Network. This is the purpose of the documents approved today: the Ministerial Declaration and the Guidelines for the future Transport Action Plan.
Looking at the broad area of the Mediterranean region, predominantly inhabited by millions of young people, let me conclude on an optimistic note. Creating a modern and efficient regional transport network will not only generate work for our companies and jobs for our people; it will mean new economic opportunities and more sustainable economic growth.
It is my conviction that the Union for the Mediterranean is the proper forum for fulfilling this vision. I can reassure you that the European Union stands ready to support the UfM in this work.
Thank you for your attention.