Political will needed for TENs

15 April 2008

The Trans-European networks policy is not new. In 1994, during a European Summit in Essen, Europe's heads of state and government defined a list of 14 transport “Priority Projects”, known as the “Essen projects”, and committed themselves to completing them by 2010.

These projects formed the so-called Trans-European Transport Networks (TENs), whose contribution to the long-term development, competitiveness, cohesion and enlargement of the EU has been highlighted on several occasions.

The cost of these 14 Essen projects represented, in 2004, a total investment of about € 136 billion – 1,3% of the EU15's GDP.

In 2004, in order to take into account enlargement of the EU, and the needs of the new Member States, the TENs list was extended and now includes 30 priority projects – the original 14 Essen projects, with some extensions, plus 16 new schemes. The Member States committed to complete these projects by 2020.

At the end of 2005, the total cost of these 30 priority projects was put at € 313 billion – 2,8% of the EU25's GDP. But these 30 projects are only those identified as having the highest priority. It is estimated that the investment required to complete and modernise a true trans-European network in the enlarged EU would amount to some € 600 billion.

Current Status

FIEC recently published the results of its 13th annual survey on the development of the 30 TENs projects, which presents the situation as at 31 December 2005.

The survey found that a total of 52,2% of the financing of all the projects is in place. This is an average across all the schemes and there is of course a significant difference between the original 14 projects and the newer TENs schemes. Of the Essen projects, seven are fully financed and only two have funding available for less than 50%. There is therefore a more serious lack of finance for the 16 newer schemes.

A total of 36,9% of the 30 projects has been completed, with a value of some € 115 billion. Again there is a significant difference between the Essen projects – only three are less than 50% complete – and the newer infrastructure schemes.

Some € 197,4 billion of work remains to be done by the target completion date of 2020.

Despite the progress of recent years the overall picture remains disappointing. Only three of the Essen projects are finished, and the three largest ones, which represent € 126 billion, are not yet fully financed. These are also the three projects that are less than 50% complete.

New Initiatives

Despite the decision of the Member States to provide the Commission with only € 8 billion for the TENs priority projects between 2007 and 2013, some important initiatives have been launched in an effort to speed things up.

Six Coordinators have been nominated for the six most complex priority projects. Their task is mainly to facilitate dialogue between the various stakeholders, particularly the Member States. Progress reports presented in September 2006 showed they have had a positive impact.

In December 2006 an agreement was reached regarding the “Financial regulation” for the 2007 to 2013 period. According to this agreement the share of EU co-financing can now reach 50% of the total costs of the studies and 20% of the actual work, rising to 30% for the cross-border sections.

In addition to these efforts an Executive Agency for the TENs has been established. Its role is to provide technical and administrative expertise to the Commission on the implementation of the projects.

Political Commitment

Despite these positive initiatives from the European institutions, they are not enough on their own. They need to be complemented by direct interventions from the Member States.

FIEC's survey shows that between 1994 and 2005 61% of total financing was provided by national or regional governments and public authorities. Just 24% was provided by EU funds, such as Cohesion Funds and the TENs budget itself, along with money from the European Investment Bank. Some 10% was provided by private capital, with 5% coming from other sources.

These shares will not change dramatically in the future.

Worryingly, some legal, administrative and political difficulties have recently been seen in some Member States. These new local obstacles should not be overlooked as they may negatively impact the development of entire TENs projects.

It is therefore clear that without a stronger political commitment from the Member States these priority projects, will not be completed in the foreseeable future. The TENs schemes are recognised as being essential for the competitiveness and cohesion of the EU, and the Member States themselves have underlined this on several occasions.

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