Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Another day, another failure …

"EU urges action on European transport network," says the Guardian. And so another bland headline plops into the ether, unnoticed, unregarded and totally devoid of significance.

But then, without the history, there is no way that the average reader could even begin to understand that this represents yet another EU policy failure – and this one has to be one of the biggest.

The Guardian story itself tells us that the cost of linking up Europe's transport network (TEN) has risen 16.8 percent from original projections to nearly €400 billion euros ($618 billion), and big sections are behind schedule.

This is lifted from a commission report which states: "It is very clear today that significant parts of the 30 priority projects will not be completed until 2015 or even 2020," and the paper then adds a comment from EU transport commissioner Jacques "Wheel" Barrot, who says the slippage is unacceptable, "… given that switching passengers and freight from roads to the more efficient railways could help the EU meet its targets of curbing carbon dioxide emissions, key to its strategy for fighting against climate change."

We are also told that, "Integrating trans-European roads and railways" is seen as vital to the growth of the internal market within the 27-member bloc, as well as to boosting employment and economic output.

But that does not even begin to describe it.

The TEN project, in fact, stems from an initiative presented by Jacques Delors – then EU commission president - to the European Council in Brussels on 11-12 December 1993. Delors was concerned to present a big idea to cure "Europe's structural unemployment" and, at the same time to demonstrate the supposed benefits of "Community action".

The "big idea" he presented to the Council was a massive scheme of public works which he equated to the "New Deal", a scheme to build the "trans-European infrastructure", interconnecting energy transmission systems and a series of cross-border road and rail projects.

This "trans-European network" or "TEN" was to cost 400 billion ecus (£260 billion), partly paid from EU regional funds but mainly by member states, with private finance involvement. And, crucially, in order to have the intended effect of a massive boost to employment, the whole, vast scheme was to be completed within fifteen years and

The initial approval, with the enthusiastic support of the then 15 member states - was given in 1995 and, for the 2000-2006 financial period, €4.2 billion was allocated from EU funds, co-funding projects up to a maximum of 10 percent. Top-ups came from the European Regional Development Fund to the tune of € 34 billion, with loans from the European Investment Bank totalling €37.9 billion.

Then, under the "multi-annual financial framework 2007-2013", the commission added another €8.013 billion to the pot, with billions more flowing in from other EU sources and member states.

Now, 15 years after Delors proposed his grand scheme – to last 15 years – TEN is behind schedule and massively overspent, soaking up huge amounts of taxpayers’ money. And, with nothing very much to show for what was originally hailed as Europe's "New Deal", it still has another 12 years to run – and some.

But, as another grand initiative bites the dust, all it warrants is a brief story in the on-line edition of The Guardian, the only media source even to mention it. It is no wonder the "colleagues" find it so easy to extol the virtues of le project, when even the most egregious of their failures go unnoticed.


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