Towards integration – Siim Kallas

15 July 2014

Urban Transport Agenda speaks to European Commission vice-president for transport Siim Kallas about the importance of the ‘Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area’.

In November 2013's plenary session, the European Parliament gave its blessing to the most extreme overhaul of EU infrastructure policy since its early days in the 1980s. The parliament approved the new trans-European transport network (TEN-T) maps that will serve as a backbone for transportation in Europe's single market.

This landmark decision was applauded by European Commission (the Commission) vice-president for transport Siim Kallas. After gruelling multilateral negotiations, a logical compromise for all EU institutions and individual member states was identified. But what will the changes actually bring to EU regions?

The long-term objective of the Commission is to simplify travel across Europe using a range of transport modes, including air, rail and urban transport, thus enabling European residents and visitors to enjoy a comfortable door-to-door travel experience.

Kallas believes the most powerful driver of economic growth in the EU is its 500 million consumers, a resource he feels has been squandered, as a joined-up network and proper connection between nations is still lacking. The EU's Transport 2050 strategy, adopted in 2011, aims to rectify that: 40 initiatives will revamp transport over the next decade, removing major bottlenecks in infrastructure, investment, innovation and the EU's internal market.

In short, Transport 2050 will create the much-needed single European transport area to link different modes of transport, and bring about the desired shift in the way passengers and freight are moved. The transport industry's dependence on imported oil will be reduced, and its greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 60% by 2050.

"The roadmap’s goal is that 50% of all medium-distance passenger and freight transport should move off the roads and onto rail, sea or other waterways by 2050."

"In European cities, cars are a clear problem," says Kallas. "They produce congestion and are becoming less reliable for people as a means of getting from A to B. The challenge is to provide an attractive alternative."

In fact, one of the aims of the roadmap is to phase out conventionally fuelled cars in cities.

Pitching TEN-T

In an applications process that closed in early March, the Commission welcomed proposals worth €350 million to finance TEN-T infrastructure for projects in all EU nations and for all transport modes: air, rail, road, maritime and inland waterways.

The TEN-T multi-annual programme traditionally finances the top priorities of the TEN-T network. This was the last to be held under the 2007-13 budget and concentrated on five fields:

  • the 30 TEN-T priority projects
  • motorways of the sea
  • interoperability on the European rail network
  • air traffic management and intelligent transport systems (including real-time traffic and information services for safer roads).

The budget includes €70 million to help accelerate the implementation of TEN-T projects, and to develop innovative new technologies in fields such as alternative fuels infrastructure, sustainability of urban mobility, traffic efficiency, decarbonisation, noise reduction, safety and vehicle-infrastructure communication systems; for example, the TEN-T programme is now co-funding the Republic of Ireland's rollout of a nationwide network of public charge points. This includes the installation of fast chargers along the main interurban routes. Cross-border compatibility will allow electric-vehicle drivers to use the public charging infrastructure in Northern Ireland.

Kallas highlights Rotterdam as the model European port, as it is ideally located to play a pivotal role in the network due to its position on three of nine corridors of the new core network - Rhine-Alpine, North Sea-Baltic and North Sea-Mediterranean. It is currently the largest port in Europe in terms of goods handled. However, Kallas explains that even the best-performing hubs need other ports across the continent to remain strong and successful, as gaps in performance and competitiveness across ports adversely impact the sector as a whole.

If struggling ports manage to boost efficiency, extra short-sea-shipping connections would be created. According to Kallas, that would mean less congestion in port towns, more activity and new jobs. It would also enable all ports to be more easily integrated into the TEN-T logistics chain. The roadmap's goal is that 50% of all medium-distance passenger and freight transport should move off the roads and onto rail, sea or other waterways by 2050.

Transparent and accountable

There is no shortage of funds to bring about this transformation. The EU has already promised that the financing for transport infrastructure will triple for the 2014-20 period to €26 billion, and will be tightly focused on the core transport network where there is most EU added value.

This modern network will ensure full coverage of the EU and accessibility of all regions, with the aim that by 2050 the majority of Europe's citizens and businesses will be no more than 30 minutes' travel time from a connection.

The huge outlay of public money calls for improved accountability. In an effort to enhance transparency and responsible use of public financing in a number of member states, many of the ports to be awarded taxpayers' money will face stricter rules and regulations when it comes to reporting.

People power

Kallas emphasises that the new approach will avoid distortions of competition and clearly specify where the cash is allocated, which should help create a business climate attractive to other outside investors.

Kallas suggests that investment in the core transport network relates not just to the movement of people or goods, but also the creation of pleasant living spaces for urban populations, which makes for a healthier, happier workforce. The greatest potential here, he explains, is in changing city structures.

"In Brussels, we have a plan to bring more people back to the centre. Then you don't need to commute every day from the suburbs. The smart city concept has a serious impact on transport. As a young family, you're worried about finding a good school, parks and clean areas."

The commissioner says his belief in a united Europe is driven by inspiration from his family.

"My positive energy for Europe comes from my grandchildren; my negative energy comes from my parents," he explains. "I don't want my grandchildren to face the misery my parents faced, with occupation and imprisonment."

He points out that Europe has been most successful when it seeks to take down walls - and he claims this is exactly what's happening now with transport. "I'm for taking down bureaucratic barriers and national barriers in aviation, so we have one European airspace. But we still have lots of national restrictions."

The critical issue for Europe, he concludes, is what can be achieved alone and what must be done together.

"We saw a big crisis when the Icelandic volcano exploded," he says. "This was a good awakening call that we have to manage the airspace together."

Goals and support

Kallas wants a complete modernisation of Europe's air traffic control system by 2020: delivering the single European sky will bring quicker and safer air journeys, and additional capacity. He also aims for completion of the European Common Aviation Area of 58 countries and one billion inhabitants by 2020. Another goal is 40% use of sustainable low-carbon fuels in aviation.

"Kallas aims for completion of the European Common Aviation Area of 58 countries and one billion inhabitants by 2020. Another goal is 40% use of sustainable low-carbon fuels in aviation."

Kallas regards logistics as "one of the most dynamic sectors of our economy" and as "lying at the heart of Europe's single market". It accounts for 10% of Europe's GDP. His verdict is that Europe's dominant logistics providers can improve further with the single transport area.

Still, he cautions that "for most operators that kind of environment seems a long way off. There is too much administration, too many missing links in the transport network, technical incompatibilities, thousands of different national rules and standards, IT issues, and problems with career development, training, recruitment, innovation and environmental standards".

While facing those challenges, Kallas has dealt with his fair share of controversy; for example, in mid-March he abandoned his Reform Party campaign for the post of prime minister in Estonia. A group of MEPs wrote a letter to Commission chief José Manuel Barroso asking for Kallas's resignation.

It was believed that he was in breach of the EU Treaty and the Commission's internal code of conduct, which states that commissioners must resign or take a leave of absence if they get involved in election campaigns. According to Indrek Tarand, an Estonian Green MEP, Kallas's dual role was "too flexible an interpretation of the code of conduct".

Outgoing Prime Minister Andrus Ansip had confided in state broadcaster Eesti Televisioon that Kallas would be a good choice as the succeeding prime minister, especially since Estonia is due to take over the rotating EU presidency in 2018.

Ansip also defended Kallas against media revelations that the commissioner signed off $100 million of guarantees for unclear purposes in 1994 when he was governor of the Estonian central bank.

"In my opinion, the plan was to bring more money into Estonia, not vice versa," Ansip explained.

Despite this tense public drama, Kallas remains fixed on his task to bring about a fully integrated transport network in Europe. At the end of 2013, the All Ways Travelling consortium, which includes Zeppelin University, completed its in-depth study of multimodality, and will now trial a series of proofs of concept.

Kallas is convinced that, when the corridors are built, they will bring enormous benefits. But he warns that the Commission "needs to push this debate to the wider public to discuss answers and approaches, otherwise, we risk losing out. More attractive and flexible alternatives are appearing elsewhere."

Siim Kallas was involved in the formation of the newly independent Estonia in the early ’90s. He eventually became prime minister, minister of finance, secretary of state and president of the Central Bank of Estonia. In May 2004, he was appointed Estonia’s first Commission member, becoming vice-president of transport in February 2010.

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