The Connecting Europe Facility will have benefits for both the economy and for the social inclusion of European citizens, says Herald Ruijters.
The Multiannual Financial Framework’s (MFF) 2021-2027 ‘EU budget for the future’ package has proposed a budget of €42.3bn for investments in transport, energy and telecommunications. The Connecting Europe Facility, therefore, is directly tackling Europe’s main infrastructural gaps. These key projects make Europe move.
Herald Ruijters, Director for Investment, Innovative and Sustainable Transport at DG Mobility and Transport of the European Commission (DG MOVE) told us about the Connecting Europe Facility’s instruments and the benefits they will have for both the economy and social inclusion of European citizens:
Issues in transport
There are three main issues that concern us. One of the key problems in transport is congestion. Europe’s roads are getting more and more congested, as are rails, airports and ports. We do not think this problem will go away as we have a forecast of a 30% increase in passengers and a 50% increase in freight respectively up to 2050 across Europe. The cost of congestion at the moment is around 1% of GDP which is huge – if we could save that as a yearly cost then we would have the budget of the entire EU as it stands today. All commuters and businesses have this problem – our economy is dependent on it.
The second problem is pollution, especially clean air. We have transport contributing almost a quarter to CO2, while nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions also need to be addressed. Premature death in cities due to unclean air is very high – again, it costs more than 1% of GDP. The third issue is road safety: this is a prominent issue, but it is still not prominent enough. We have 25,000 people killed every year on European roads. This cannot continue. These are the three drivers that are very important for both business and economy but also for society.
Transport and infrastructure
There are a number of things that can be done about this: on the one hand, we must consider the availability and the robustness as well as safety and security of our infrastructure, and on the other hand we need to provide a level playing field so all transport systems can compete and offer the best service in a complete harmonised framework.
On the infrastructure side we are starting anew with a policy which lays down a network all across the EU in all transport modes and is fully interoperable. The core of this network should be ready by 2030. The Connecting Europe Facility is now worth €24bn. To be effective with such a limited fund we need to concentrate on a number of limited priorities which are cross-border projects and schemes. For instance, in Europe we are still missing a number of transport links: there are no rail connections between the Baltic states and the rest of Europe, or between the Spanish peninsula and France and the rest of Europe. These are the key projects we are trying to complete now. We also have a number of big infrastructure work in the Alps that are missing. For example, like the Gotthard Base tunnel in Switzerland – we are trying to do the same on the Austrian and French sides in order to have more capacity (Brenner and Lyon-Torino Base Tunnels).
At the same time, we have a number of schemes in development aimed at consolidating a Europe-wide rail traffic management system (ERTMS), a single European air space system (SESAR) and similar or identical interoperability protocols for roads.
These are the things we have been doing for the past seven years, now we are looking at the next period. The Commission has been developing budget proposals for the Connecting Europe Facility for the period spanning 2021-2027.
Sustainability and innovation
In the current debates in the newly elected European Parliament and with the Member States, the Paris Agreement is coming to the forefront as well as the expectation from citizens for transport to become completely clean. This includes electrifying the road transport as well as making solutions available such as hydrogen, so this will be quite important in the upcoming years. This kind of approach means if you buy an electric vehicle you can charge it anywhere; or if you have a hydrogen-powered bus or truck, for example, you can fill it in any Member State, not just where you bought it.
The Connecting Europe Facility budget that is now proposed for the next seven years is not only for transport – it ties together with energy and telecoms, because transport should be smart and provide for all the necessary energy solutions. This is very much aligned with other parts of the proposed budget. The research budget for transport innovation integrates energy and climate research.
On the other side of the spectrum is the continuation of what used to be the Juncker Plan, which is now the InvestEU programme: a guarantee scheme mobilising private funding. InvestEU aims to bring together the various EU financial instruments currently available under the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the Connecting Europe Facility instruments, specific facilities under the Competitiveness Of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (COSME) programme, as well as specific guarantees and facilities under the Employment and Social Innovation programme (EaSI) in order to benefit from economies of scale and expand the Juncker Plan’s model.
We are closely cooperating with our colleagues in climate and energy and are making proposals across the board based upon policies. Transport should decarbonise and become more connected, including with artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and 5G deployment.
This budget that the Commission proposed is modest and realistic. There are Member States who say we have been too low and others say we have been too high, so we are nicely in the middle.
How the Connecting Europe Facility works
The Connecting Europe Facility works on a competitive basis: proposals are presented by the Member States and project promoters and are selected in accordance with a large oversubscription allowing to only retain the projects that bring EU added value.
This will have benefits for social inclusion as well as the economy, as we have very high standards for accessibility and interoperability. It will benefit people with reduced mobility. Concentrating the most environmental modes of transport is beneficial to citizens, so we fund rail and inland waterways and contribute to keeping travel affordable.
Military mobility is something that is completely new – we are not going to be moving around military equipment or anything like that, it is very often misunderstood. What we have been realising is that the military use public infrastructure like rails, ports and terminals. They have told us that in many cases because of bridges not coping and capacities not being there, for example, they are facing serious delays just like civilian transport. For this budget we are trying to accelerate the roll out of certain infrastructure which could benefit both civilian and the military. This initiative is broadly supported by all Member States.
We are strongly focused on a corridor approach – it makes no sense to do one bridge in France and another in Germany, for example. If we want to be successful it needs to be a long stretch. Logistics companies should be able to use such a corridor all the way from Antwerp port to a terminal in Poland, for instance. Therefore, we favour these corridor approaches and are optimising the investments to make them more valuable, so that when one Member State is investing on one side of the border, this is paired with a similar investment on the other side of the border. In such cases, the value of having clear rules, financial support and co-ordination will make a difference for Europe.