Why improving accessibility across all territories is crucial for Europe’s future

By Patrick ANVROIN, Director of Transport, CPMR

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The CPMR represents peripheral and maritime territories. Territories are abstract entities, but it is women and men who drive and sustain them. Promoting territorial cohesion means facilitating the mobility of people and goods. This is the purpose of the accessibility campaign that the CPMR launched back in 2014.

EU transport policies must help to improve the availability of transport services in a balanced way between territories. They need to address two challenges:

improving the impact of transport on the environment: This is the “levelling upwards” proposed by the EU 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

offsetting the negative effects of globalisation: According to the European Commission’s Reflection Paper on Harnessing Globalisation published on 10 May 2017, “there is a risk that globalisation would […] contribute to further widening inequalities and social polarisation.” Here we could extrapolate and talk about the development of territorial polarisation. It is regrettable, as the CPMR has repeatedly stated, that the White Paper on the Future of Europe failed to include this place-based factor as a component part of the depicted scenarios.

Though confronted with these two challenges, the European Commission does not actually make any assumption on the need to adapt its transport policy. This has always been inspired by the free market, i.e. it excludes any form of positive discrimination in favour of territories or virtuous modes of transport.

Recent developments in the policy on trans-European networks are also tending towards the same direction. Examples of this include:

– Marco Polo being abandoned in 2013 without replacing it, this being the only European programme supporting a shift of traffic from road to sustainable modes of transport. Accused of distorting competition, it has not survived: for sustainable development and connectivity with and between maritime Regions, it is a lost opportunity.

– 95% of the funding allocated to the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) concentrated on 9 land corridors serving central Europe: what has happened to Article 4 of the TEN-T Regulation, which gives this network a territorial objective? Lost in implementation?

– Islands and outermost regions overlooked in the TEN-T.

– Criteria for selecting projects under calls for proposals failing to include how projects help to improve accessibility.

– Promoters of small or medium-sized transport infrastructure projects (characteristic of peripheral territories where flows are not massive and do not justify “giant” infrastructures) encountering the same type of difficulty to reach the €10 million threshold that would make them eligible under the Juncker Plan. For the European Commission and its transport policy, small is not beautiful!

– Powerful deterrents in the TEN-T regulation discouraging ship owners from opening motorways of the sea to neighbouring countries: the end result of this is a policy which remains strictly intra-European, in breach of the principles upheld in the Reflection Paper on Harnessing Globalisation. The planned new silk route promoted by China is certainly promising, provided the conditions under which it is developed respect European interests. But Europe would also do well to make use of its outposts, the outermost regions (OMRs), to develop economic exchanges with other continents with which it shares sea basins, e.g. Indian Ocean, Macaronesia and the Caribbean. We need to be able to set up maritime hubs in European territories in these seas.

In the forthcoming debate on future EU transport policy, the CPMR will adopt realistic positions: priority will be given to accessibility, while taking on board the principles of sustainable development.

These two priorities are not always readily compatible. Sea and air transport are sources of polluting emissions that are harmful to human health and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The international organisations on air transport (ICAO) and shipping (IMO) have addressed these issues. The CPMR is contributing at its own level to these efforts towards greater sustainability. Within the IOPC Fund, for example, it is defending the notion of ecological damage in compensation for regions soiled by oil spills. The CPMR also spoke out at the European Sustainable Shipping Forum asking to speed up the process to find a credible alternative to the late Marco Polo programme. These concerns for sustainable development will also be the focus of its action on air transport, alongside priority for connectivity.

The review of the Eurovignette Directive, which the Commission is starting in 2017, provides an opportunity for the CPMR to develop a position paper on the smart application of the polluter-pays principle: a virtuous one, but which needs to be moderated so as not to penalise remote territories, which sometimes depend heavily on road transport.

A raft of EU policies can help to improve the territorial and environmental impact of transport activities

Although the European Commission seems to have kicked off the debate on the Future of Europe quite reticently as far as transport is concerned, the CPMR will seek to dynamise the discussions. It is doing just this, and will continue to do so, as part of its proposals for a radical change in the Connecting Europe Facility regulation (the funding instrument for transport policy) for the post-2020 period.

It will carry on its monitoring and proposal work on the European framework for state aid, a key issue for Regions, port and airport managers, shipowners and airlines, all of whom make accessibility a reality.

It will also take forward its thought process on how to ensure greater coherence between cohesion and transport policy, and also how better to adapt the Juncker Plan to transport infrastructure projects in the peripheries.