How the EU wants countries to tweak transport policy

The European Commission unveiled a whole series of country-by-country recommendations on 5 June, including guidance on how to improve transport links and boost sustainability through shrewd investments.

As part of the 2019 European semester, the EU executive issued all 28 EU countries advice on economic policy for the next 12 to 18 months.

Away from the nitty-gritty of financial targets and government debt, many of the recommendations urge investment in sustainable transport options and infrastructure. 

Here is a breakdown of what the Commission advises each of the member states to do in their transport sector by the end of next year. However, it is important to note that countries only implement on average 40% of the executive’s recommendations.

Austria

The Commission’s recommendations for the Alpine nation are among the few that actually do not explicitly mention transport. Instead, the executive advises the Austrians to get more renewable energy into its systems and to focus investment on research and development.

Representatives from the EU’s Innovation and Networks Executive Agency visited Austria’s biggest infrastructure project this week. The EU-funded Brenner Base Tunnel will link the republic with Italy, via the longest underground railway connection in the world.

Belgium

Aside from focusing investments on sustainable transport in general, the Commission recommends the home of the EU institutions to upgrade its rail links. Its report also criticises the country’s company car tax scheme for “adversely affecting” mobility.

Belgian roads are among the most congested in the EU and Brussels recently ranked 11th in a list of the most jammed up cities on the continent.

The Commission concludes that roadways are “deteriorating” and pointed out that private companies are not allowed to operate intercity bus services.

Bulgaria

Infrastructure suffers from gaps and although coverage and quality have improved, it is still below the EU average. The Commission recommends that Bulgaria also channel investments towards sustainable transport options, warning that sector greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have “increased strongly” over the last five years.

Environmental activists arrived in Bulgaria’s scenic Kresna gorge on Tuesday (4 June) to protest against a planned motorway that would form part of a link between Hamburg and Athens. Green groups have called on EU heads to halt the project.

Croatia

The newest EU member’s transport network is “unbalanced”, according to the Commission’s assessment. Railways in particular lag “significantly behind” and are a barrier to worker mobility.

Public transport in smaller cities is inadequate, GHG have increased significantly over the last five years and renewable energy (RES) in transport is “far below” a 10% 2020 target. Additional efforts are needed to “effectively reduce the high proportion of fossil fuel-powered cars”.

Cyprus

The island nation’s reliance on roads for inland transport boosts air pollution problems and GHG emissions, with severe congestion a major challenge. Cyprus has only reached a 2.7% RES share and “may have difficulties” reaching the binding 10% 2020 target.

Czech Republic

Transport networks and pan-EU TEN-T corridors are “far from being finalised”, although the Czech Republic is a transit country. Suburban transport is “deficient” and limits housing affordability and commute potential, according to the guidance notes, while weak links deter business in remote areas.

The Commission warns that planned growth of recharging infrastructure “may not be sufficient” to deal with future demand. Transport GHG have also “increased strongly” over the last five years.

Denmark

Despite Denmark’s “high-quality roads”, congestion is up. In the report, the Commission notes a jam-busting plan for 2020-2030 worth €15bn or 6% of Danish GDP. The strategy is still pending, so the new government, still to be formed after elections, will have to adopt it.

Estonia

Underdeveloped railways are Estonia’s biggest stumbling block, as well as getting renewables into transport. The penetration rate is currently only 0.4% against the 10% target for next year.

Finland

Transport bottlenecks stymie the labour market because they hamper commute times, so strategic investments should be made. Costs have a “relatively high impact” on final price of Finnish products compared to other EU members, the Commission warned.

Ambitious biofuel objectives should be complemented by “cost efficient” electrification, given progress in power decarbonisation. Finland’s new government pledged on 4 June to reach carbon neutrality by 2035.

France

Paris received a relatively good appraisal and transport is not explicitly mentioned. Developments in energy and climate mitigation policy are lauded but the audit calls for more interconnectors with neighbours, particularly to help the Iberian peninsula.

Independent developer Aquind is calling for bids to build a 2GW electricity cable between France and the UK that would cost over €1bn and have the capacity to provide 5% of British power needs.

Germany

Low levels of R&D in SMEs are having a negative impact on sustainable transport development and other green technologies. More investment in infrastructure and clean mobility is needed to improve air quality, which is a “serious cause for concern”.

The Commission assessment notes that traffic accounts for 60% of harmful NOx in urban areas, while congestion and time looking for parking spaces costs €110bln per year or 4% of GDP. Car and ridesharing remain underexploited and “considerable” investment is needed in batteries.

Greece

Greece “faces significant challenges” because of its heavy dependence on oil and the fact all main connections gravitate towards the Athens-Thessaloniki corridor. Transport costs are high, while the quality of service and safety standards are low. Investments should be made in intelligent systems.

Hungary

Bad public transport and high commuting costs are contributing to unemployment in certain areas. The poor condition of road and rail reduces travel safety, with half of the road network in a bad condition.

The report suggests that inland navigation of the Danube could be improved “by less restrictive regulation”, which would boost growth.

Ireland

Lack of investment after the economic bust means GHG have increased over the last five years and economic growth is not yet decoupled from emissions.

Improved infrastructure could boost housing supply while diversifying maritime and energy connections to Europe could guard against external shocks. Plans to build an electricity cable between Ireland and France took a big step forward in May.

Italy

The Commission reserves its most in-depth and lengthy assessment of transport and infrastructure for Italy, which “has not delivered on its infrastructure investment strategy”. “Very limited progress” has been made on rail and road, due to admin delays, spending inefficiencies, procurement shortcomings and litigation.

State of repair is a clear source of concern, with the report citing the deadly collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa.

As Rome squares up to the Commission’s move towards an excessive deficit procedure, extra spending on bringing bridges, roads and railways up to code is clearly marked out as a possible avenue for growth-friendly expenditure.

Latvia

The Baltic country’s regional differences and Riga-heavy infrastructure is “extremely pronounced” and has a negative impact on economic activity and exports. An ambitious railway link, Rail Baltica, is suffering from investment gaps.

Lithuania

International accessibility is low as regards rail, road, maritime and air links. The report calls for more integration to allow full exploitation of the single market.

Luxembourg

Air pollution and congestion are “major problems” for environment and competition. Nearly 50% of the workforce is cross-border, so low fuel tax and high house prices increase car use. The report acknowledges that the use of alternative fuels is increasing.

Malta

Traffic jams on the island are among the “weakest aspects” of Malta’s business environment. Work on a 13km-long tunnel between the main island and Gozo is expected to begin this year, which has strong support among residents but has been denounced by environmental groups.

Netherlands

Bottlenecks in the “dense and well-equipped country” are a problem but the report acknowledges how recent infrastructure works have started to alleviate congestion.

Poland

Current incentives to use public or low emission transport options are “insufficient”, while concentration of road updates in the east are leaving the north of the country isolated.

Old cars are problematic for air quality and the report concludes that enabling lower emissions from transport would help Poland address its status as the least carbon-efficient country in the EU.

Portugal

Insufficient maritime and railway connections make it difficult for export-orientated businesses. The report encourages works to be finished in Atlantic ports to increase freight capacity. Railway connections with Spain are “widely underused” and the Commission suggests a “comprehensive Iberian plan” should be drawn up.

Romania

Romania received one of the worst appraisals, as the report concludes that the reliability of road and rail are very poor and that infrastructure is not keeping up with economic growth.

Underinvestment in rail maintenance means reduced speeds and delayed freight. A list of 130 pending public investment projects, mostly in transport, could be eligible for EU funds but admin has fallen short.

Slovakia

Road and rail network development is lagging behind and having a negative impact on the Rhine-Danube corridor. The report recommends improving links between existing infrastructure.

Slovenia

Transport is Slovenia’s biggest source of CO2 due to heavy reliance on cars and trucks. The Commission concluded that there is significant scope for improvement in rail links.

Spain

Incomplete rail freight connections limit connectivity with single market, so investments are needed to increase the amount of rail freight, particularly cross-border connections with France and Portugal.

Sweden

Sweden is urged to maintain transport investments, which have so far been strong. The report cites the government’s 2018-2029 strategy, which is promoting a switch of freight from road to rail.

UK

Though the UK intends to leave in October, the Commission calls for “major investment” in infrastructure over the next 18 months to modernise and expand links. It concludes that there is growing capacity pressures in road, rail and aviation, and that previous developments have tended to be costly and slow.