Interview with Adriana Ţicău, Vice-Chair of the European Committee for Transport and Tourism (TRAN)
In her interview for the current issue of Railway Pro Magazine, dedicated to transport infrastructure development, Adriana Ţicău, Vice-Chair of the European Committee for Transport and Tourism (TRAN), explains the importance of the Danube Region for the European Union, but also the role of the Danube Strategy in the development of the region. In terms of transports, the development depends on the efficient use of transport modes, logistics segment, extension of networks and optimisation of services. Last but not least, the optimisation of the Trans-European network (TEN-T) will contribute to the improvement of intermodality in the entire region.
Railway Pro: The importance of the Danube Strategy has increased the role it plays on the European politicians’ agenda. What does the EU seek to obtain by adopting this strategy?
Adriana Ţicău: The Danube Region has special importance to the EU due to both the big number of countries it crosses and to EU’s direct exit to the Black Sea. Next to the Rhine and the Main Channel, the Danube links the North Sea and the Port of Rotterdam, EU’s largest port, to the Black Sea and Constanţa seaport, the tenth biggest port in the EU. An important European waterway, the Danube has played an important role in the economic and social development of Europe. Among the first European institutions, the European Commission of the Danube was established on March 31, 1856, based in Romania, first in Galaţi and then in Sulina, with the set purpose of ensuring free traffic on the Danube. After the expansion in 2007, the Danube has almost entirely become an inland waterway of the European Union.
The European Council in June 2009 has demanded the European Commission to present a Strategy of the European Union (EU) for the Danube Region by the end of 2010. On December 8, the Commission presented the Danube Region Strategy, as well as the Action Plan. In turn, the European Parliament (EP) has played an important part on the entire development period of this strategy. “MEP Danube Forum” of the European Parliament is a forum which reunites European deputies of all EP’s political groups, as well as representatives of the member states, cities and regions located along the Danube, representatives of the European Commission and of other European and international institutions and coordinators of different priority projects for the Danube Region. EU’s Danube Strategy is dedicated to improving the life of European citizens in the Danube Region in fields of activity such as: mobility, communications, environment protection, energy efficiency, economic and social development, cultural exchanges etc. The Strategy will substantially contribute to a better coordination between local and regional organisations developing their activity in the Danube Region and could bring welfare, sustainable development, jobs and security in the area.
EU’s Danube Strategy is accompanied by an Action Plan and strategic projects for the development of the Danube Region. The added value of territorial cooperation is offered by the fact that these strategic projects will be acknowledged as priorities by all countries with access to the Danube. In this way, a better and more efficient coordination will help improve the investment of existing funds for the economic and social development of the Danube Region.
Railway Pro: What is the role that multi-modal transport plays in the development of the Danube Region?
Adriana Ţicău: The development of passenger and freight transport, as well as the development of tourism in the Danube Region, depends mostly on the efficient use of the different transport modes. The inland waterways systems are an important part in the development of transport in the region, but it is necessary to improve the entire intermodal transport system along the Danube, paying special attention to the combination of inland waterways and better logistics, inland waterway transport and railway transport, at the same time considering the additional opportunities provided by sea transport on short distances. Moreover, it is necessary to improve the Trans-European transport network (TEN-T) with positive effects on intermodality in the entire region and increasing the access level to the Black Sea through road and railway means of transport (freight transport corridors and rapid railways). We have to underline that EU’s Strategy for the Danube Region also comes up with a series of well-defined purposes that require attention, such as the development of efficient multi-modal terminals in the Danube ports set to connect the inland waterways with road an railway transport by 2020.
Railway Pro: Currently, the European Commission avoids concrete financial implication in building this Strategy. What are the objectives of the Transport Committee for the next budget exercise 2014-2020?
Adriana Ţicău: By adopting a coordinated approach, EU’s Strategy for the Danube Region will enable a more efficient investment and a greater absorption of European funds, without limiting to these funds. The European Commission and member states have to provide the financing sources for the implementation of EU’s objectives for the Danube Strategy. Although the strategy has no additional funds dedicated to its implementation, for 2007-2013, EU has already endorsed almost EUR 100 Billion to the development of the Danube Region through the European Fund for Regional Development, the Cohesion Fund and the European Social Fund. Also, there are 41 inter-regional cooperation programmes in the region. In 2011, we will carry on discussions on the TEN-T recast and the future of the transport policy during 2011-2020. In addition, through the preparation process of the future financial perspective, 2014-2020, we are trying to persuade both the Commission and member states to endorse more funds to this sector, based on the premiss that transports are the foundation of the economic and social activity in Europe. The transport sector represents 4.6% of the European Union’s GDP and generates a job capacity of approximately 9.2 million people.
Strategically speaking, Europe is very interested in having an efficient transport infrastructure, thus ensuring the traffic of cargo and passengers to more sustainable means of transport. Financial resources have to be directed towards key necessities: elimination of bottlenecks on strategic Trans-European axes, encouraging the extension of these routes and development of cross-border and intermodal connections. We will also support the member states which accessed the EU after the 1st of May 2004 and which have poorer infrastructures to benefit from a greater support in their development.
Railway Pro: To which extent the liberalisation of railway transport plays an active role in achieving the goals of the Danube Strategy?
Adriana Ţicău: Unfortunately, over the past years and mostly because of the international financial and economic crisis, investments in railway infrastructure have not been sufficient. The lack of investments and the poor condition of rail infrastructure have led to closures in rail freight and passenger transport and, implicitly, to less jobs in this sector.
The new proposal for the recast of the First Railway Package demands member states to present a strategy for railway infrastructure development based on a solid and sustainable financing of the railway sector, valid on a minimum period of 5 years. In this way, we hope to relaunch railway infrastructure investments. Also, rail transport liberalisation should ensure more transparency and fair access to railway infrastructure. These investments are all the more necessary in the Danube Region as this region includes both member states and candidate or potential candidate states. That is why, it is necessary not only to develop the existing railway infrastructure, but also to ensure railway inter-connections between these states.
Railway Pro: In the area of people’s mobility, the Danube Strategy is focusing on developing tourism. What role rail high-speed networks should play in terms of both tourism and the mobility of businessmen and employees?
Adriana Ţicău: Europe is a densely populated continent and has a relatively small surface. Therefore, EU needs to develop its railway high-speed infrastructure so that it would serve all capitals and big cities of member states. High-speed trains can provide a fast and eco-friendly transport between the central areas of the cities, thus saving the time necessary for the transport to and from the airport and especially, the time it takes to undergo airport security and control procedures. Obviously, railway infrastructure modernisation and maintenance are key elements that determine passengers to prefer rail transport instead of road or air transport. The quality of rail transport services, punctuality, as well as observing the passengers’ rights will attract more and more passengers on rails. Last but not least, a complete and safe railway transport helps reduce the number of road accidents. I have supported and I will always support the necessity that the priority projects 6 (Lyon-Budapest-connection with Ukraine) and 17 (Paris-Bratislava) to be carried on so that the high-speed link between Budapest, Bratislava, Bucharest and Constanta could also be ensured.
Railway Pro: The European Commission seeks to implement the Strategy lacking a dedicated regulatory body. Which will be the mechanisms for the implementation of the Strategy, especially in a delicate area, such as transport infrastructures?
Adriana Ţicău: EU’s Strategy for the Danube Region is accompanied by an Action Plan that will be updated on a regular basis. The European Parliament has demanded the Commission to monitor the implementation of the strategy, especially since the strategic projects included in the Action Plan have strict deadlines. The European Parliament believes the strategy should directly influence the improvement of the European citizens’ life in the Danube Region and that is why the EP demands the Commission not only to monitor the implementation of these priority projects, but also to define and monitor several indicators that would measure the life quality of the European citizens living in the Danube Region. To that end, the Parliament has demanded the endorsement of EUR 1.5 Million to the European Commission’s budget for 2011 to define the governance pattern of EU’s Strategy for the Danube Region.
The implementation of the transport projects in the region is entrusted to either several European coordinators, for TEN-T projects, or to member states, for the transport projects implemented through the Operational Programmes financed through structural or cohesion funds. Also, to monitor the implementation of the strategic projects included in EU’s Strategy for the Danube Region, the Commissioner for Regional Development, Johannes Hahn, announced on February 3, 2011, the countries and regions that will coordinate the 11 priority action fields of activity. These will conduct the implementation of the strategy by jointly establishing a work program and identifying the financing sources, in collaboration with the other countries involved and with the other partners, as well as non-governmental organisations. Thus, for the coordination of the priority area “improvement of mobility and intermodality”, subchapter “inland waterways”, the coordinating countries are Austria and Romania and for the subchapter “railway, road and air transport routes”, the coordinating countries are Slovenia and Serbia, Ukraine also expressing its interest in this subchapter. Romania also coordinates the priority area “promotion of culture and tourism and direct contacts between people”, together with Bulgaria, as well as the priority area “management of environment risks”, together with Hungary. Moreover, the European Parliament remains an active partner in the implementation process of EU’s Strategy for the Danube Region.