European Union

EU transport policy

As well as being a key sector of the economy, transport is a major contributor to the economy (4.8% – or €548bn – in gross value added overall for the 28 EU countries), and sustains over 11 million jobs in Europe.

The European Commission aims to develop and promote transport policies that are efficient, safe, secure and sustainable, to create the conditions for a competitive industry that generates jobs and prosperity.

Major challenges for European transport

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

  • congestion affects both road and air traffic. It costs Europe around 1% of annual GDP – and freight and passenger transport alike are set to grow.
  • oil dependency – despite improvements in energy efficiency, transport still depends on oil for 96% of its energy needs. Oil will become scarcer in future, increasingly sourced from unstable parts of the world. By 2050, the price is projected to more than double compared to 2005.
  • 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 quality is uneven across the EU.
  • 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, and EU transport in figures – statistical pocketbook.

EU achievements in transport

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

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

More competition

Road – Lorries can now operate in countries other than their country of registration, reducing the number of empty return 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.

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, Balkan countries, Morocco, Jordan, Georgia and Moldova – and more are on the way. Check the status of aviation relations by country.

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 coming.

Maritime – 75% of Europe’s trade with other countries and 40% of freight within Europe is shipped 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 EU Council and the European Parliament agreed, by 2025, to promote the development of a core network of liquefied natural gas refuelling stations at the key maritime ports that make up the trans-European network, as well as a shore-side electricity supply. 

Passenger rights

EU travellers are protected by the best passenger rights in the world, which covers all means of transportation: planes, trains, ships and buses or coaches.

EU passenger rights app

Safe travel

  • 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 (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to promote safety and security standards in the rest of the world.

Smart & sustainable

The EU supports research & innovation, and the effective deployment of new green transport technologies.

For example, new rules require EU countries to promote clean technologies (cars that run on electricity/hydrogen, gas-powered trucks/barges/ships) by building a minimum number of recharging and refuelling stations.

Infrastructure & funding

As of January 2014, the EU has a new transport infrastructure policy that will connect the continent from east to west, north to south. This policy aims to close the gaps between national transport networks, remove bottlenecks that still hamper the smooth functioning of the single market and overcome technical barriers such as incompatible standards for rail traffic.

Funded through the Connecting Europe Facility, with a budget of €26bn up to 2020, the policy will also benefit from the Commission's 3-year investment plan, designed to unlock public and private investment of at least €315bn by 2017.


Updated in November 2014

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

Back to top