Transport is important to the full operation of the EU single market and is vital to fulfilling two of the four freedoms set down in the Treaty of Rome (1957) – the free movement of people and provision of services across the Community. This means that transport providers (whether transporters of passengers or goods) should be allowed equal access to all national markets within the EU. Despite treaty obligations, progress in integrating transport across the European Community was very slow until the late 1980s because member states were unwilling to give up national control over transport. In recent decades however, integrated transport has become one of the most prominent areas where the EU has played a role.
A Common Transport Policy (CTP) was first proposed in the Treaty of Rome (1957). Progress was very slow however, until 1983, when the European Parliament successfully took the Council of Ministers to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for failing to implement its treaty obligation. Shortly afterwards, transport was included in the Single European Act (1986) which formed the basis of plans to complete the single market. This began a process of rapid change and, during the 1990s, it became much easier for foreign transport providers to work across the member states. The EU also set out guidelines for common standards on pollution, safety, transport pricing and environmental sustainability. A particular focus was on improving the quality of railway links, with substantial funding put into trans-European networks of rail, roads and waterways.
In 2001, the EU published a white paper on the future of the CTP and, in 2004, with the enlargement of the EU, improving transport infrastructure in the new member states and linking them up to western Europe became a key goal.
In 2011, the EU Commission announced detailed plans across 25 policy areas. These included: moving away from a reliance on fossil fuels; making more journeys available by rail and ensuring at least 40% of aviation fuel comes from low carbon sources by 2050.
How does the EU Transport Policy work?
The EU has a role in three key areas of transport policy. Under the SEA it undertook to ensure transport operators are allowed to operate freely in other member states. Secondly, it has taken a leading role in developing and funding new infrastructure. This has seen around €400 billion spent on road, rail, airport and waterway improvements between 1996-2006, and €390bn spent between 2007-13. Since 1992, the EU has supported a number of major road and rail projects, among the most high profile of them being the Channel Tunnel rail link to St Pancras Station in London. Since enlargement in 2004, the focus has been on improving infrastructure in eastern Europe. The EU estimates that by 2015, 20,000 km of roads and 30,000 km of rail will have been built or improved in the new member states.
The EU has also taken on an important role in air travel – issuing a single air transport licence and setting technical standards. The EU moved towards a ‘Single European Sky’ in 2012, covering regulation, safety, environmental impact, and air traffic control. It contributed to air passengers’ consumer protection and compensation for late flights. The EU is also developing the Galileo satellite project, designed to emulate the US’ GPS system for vehicle location and navigation. The cost of the project has come under criticism (€5 billion by 2011) but the EU Commission insists it will give the EU a greater level of independence.