Transport policy in Europe

Concepts and objectives for a sustainable transport system

Seminar Paper, 2008

48 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

I. Introduction

II. Definitions

III. The transport sector of the European Union
1. The history of the European transport policy
2. Status quo of the transport sector in the Union
1. The various modes of transportation and the modal split
2. The situation and challenges for transports over Europe’s roads
3. The situation and challenges for conveyance via European railways
4. The situation and challenges for air-borne transportation in the EU
5. The situation and challenges for the maritime transport modes in the EU
3. The White Paper of the European Commission from 2001
1. Shifting the modal balance
2. Tackling bottlenecks
3. Putting users first
4. The global dimension of European transport
4. Barriers to a quicker development

IV. The obtained so far and the obtainables in future

V. Conclusion



I. Introduction

All over the history, mobility has been an integral part of life. Europe features a high level of its unmatched infrastructure, allowing that mobility very well. Not only mobility of people, also the conveyance of goods profits from it. It has become a part of the European lifestyle since the citizens of the continent make use of transport services as a matter of course. Although the term ‘Europe’ is used, the essay mainly contains remarks about the transport sector of the European Union with its 27 member states by now.

Today, transportation can be described as one of those sectors which have been impacted most by the general change of our times. The massive growth of certain modes of transport in the past 50 years and the progression of ever increasing passengers and goods traffic constitute this change. Liberalisation, intensified competition and internationalised services in a common Internal Market emerged as results of the same.

However, there exist perils of the sector reaching its limits since new challenges occur at the horizon. In the wake of expanding trade relations and of globalisation in general, a soaring volume of goods carriers is said to overwhelm and, sooner or later, also to overtax European roads and rails. Slight changes in lifestyle patterns towards more mobility, esp. regarding everyday moves, leisure trips and vacation times, also add to the problem by creating even more traffic. Growing concern is added by the recent EU- or worldwide concentration on topics of climate change, emissions and noise pollution as well as rising number of traffic deaths and increased ground sealing by ever new projects, all of which would possibly lead to a fatal incapability of action for the sector. Another issue is the dependency on imports of (fossil) fuels which already has proved to limit the political leeway of the Union in order to placate energy supplying countries and their politicians. Likewise, the skyrocketing of crude oil prices can turn out to be a problem.

Sustainable transport should address these problems without constraining the benefits of the good infrastructure. Therefore, it is the current key trend of the European transport sector.

In this essay, the objectives of the European governmental bodies in Brussels in order to develop a sustainable transport system in the Union will be presented, so will the concepts and technologies to be applied. Included in the concepts are environmental and social considerations, providing for the observation of the sustainability idea without sacrificing economic and political objectives of the Union. In order to grasp the recommendations from Brussels thoroughly, the status quo of the sector and the different modes should be made aware of first.

II. Definitions

Transportation is termed as “the totality of all translocations of persons […] and goods […] as well as news […]” (from: Meyers1 2007), “which is to be geared to the needs for activity of men and to the environment.” (from: Ammoser/Hoppe 2006)

The transport sector comprehends the extent of passenger use, the frequency of the lanes, the usage of the different means of transportation and the covered distances. (cp. Ammoser/Hoppe 2006; Meyers1 2007)

Transport policy can be understood as “a governmental [and public] field of responsibility, which refers to the general existence provision, pursuing the goals of planning and implementing the transport infrastructure anticipatorily, of coordinating and controlling the use of transport ways and of enabling economically [i.e. cost] efficient, ecologically compatible and socially well-balanced transportation.” (from: Nuhn/Hesse 2006)

As for the transport policy in the member states of the European Union, there exists a supranational level in Brussels, apart from the respective national, regional and communal levels. Likewise, economic, financial and research policies interact with the transport policy. (cp. Meyers2 2007)

Sustainability is defined as “the state of a development, which satisfies the need for the presence without threatening the ability of future generations to satisfy their very own needs as well” (from: Brundtland 1987; cp. Meyers3 2007). In terms of sustainability in transportation, three main strategies can be identified: traffic prevention, modal shift and the increase of efficiency and compatibility. Yet, these strategies can only be realized simultaneously when an integrated transportation management is in use. (cp. DIB 2000)

A White Paper is often the second communicative measure of the European Commission in a in a legislation process of the European Union. (cp. Eurordis 2007) Prior to it, a so-called Green Paper is produced, containing rather general ideas or questions pertaining to a problem or issue and aiming at both “holding discussions with the European civil society […] [and paving] the way towards the drafting of a Commission proposal” (from: Eurordis 2007). So, normally Green Papers try to launch the public discussion which eventually culminates in the afore-mentioned Commission proposal.

Then, as a following step, the White Paper already contains “the main guidelines of a legislative proposal” (from: Eurordis 2007), i.e. it can be seen as the concrete (intermediate) result of the public discussion. Derived from the White Paper, certain concrete laws on national or Union level can be initiated.

III. The transport sector of the European Union

As the title of this essay indicates, it is to deal with the concepts and objectives of a common transport policy throughout the European Union.

The central and decisive element in this matter is the White Paper ‘European transport policy for 2010 – Time to decide’, published at the Gothenburg European Council in 2001. This document contains the essential abstract objectives and concrete measures or concepts for a more sustainable transport policy across the Union territory. These goals and measures can roughly be assigned to the two main categories of performance-enhancement and climate protection.

In the following, the present essay aims at pointing out both objectives and measures. However, in order to be capable of understanding the White Paper properly and thoroughly, it is important to conceive the origin it stems from. For that reason, the historical development of the policy shall be introduced at first, before viewing the status quo on the European transport systems. In the consideration of the present situation, a particular emphasis is laid on the state of the different modes of transport and on the current modal split.

In the light of both considerations, the White Paper is going to be introduced. As mentioned before, the White Paper already comprises legislative suggestions and distinct measures, next to abstract visions and objectives underlying these. The Commission document is subdivided into four different parts or policy guidelines, each of which pursues another goal. To each part, several measures are mentioned answering the questions what the respective issue to be tackled actually is and how the given objective can be fulfilled in an appropriate and timely manner. An important building block among those measures is the introduction of so-called Trans-European Networks, which will shortly be introduced in a later section. Moreover, their role in the framework of a common, Union-wide policy shall be examined. Furthermore, the various obstacles awaited by the European Commission are to be introduced as well.

Finally, the interim results are to be presented shortly along with future prospects, taking the enlargement rounds of the Union in 2004 and 2007 into account.

1. The history of the European transport policy

In the ‘Treaty establishing the European Union’[1], the Article 3f[2] and Title V[3] (ECB 2007; EurActiv1 2006) build the basis for a common European transport policy.

Yet, this has merely been in charge for one and a half decades now. The ambitions exist far longer though.

In 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed by the six member states of the European Economic Community, which was established with the treaty. In the latter, a separate section[4] had been dedicated to the need of a harmonized transport infrastructure in the way that measures were to be taken which were common and coordinated with each other. Modernisation, on the one hand, and extension of the existing infrastructure posed the main focus of the time, both aiming at the provision of the best conditions for an economic boom in post-war Europe. (cp. Weidenfeld1992, pp. 14, 15; cp. Button 1992, pp. 44 - 54)

However, these two ambitions largely stayed dull theory since other fields, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, pulled the political attention towards them. Moreover, the willingness to deregulate the national transport markets was quite low due to different competitive conditions in the member states. (cp. Button 1992, pp. 14, 15; cp. Towey 2005)

During the 1960s, the European Commission recommended the establishment of a transportation network in order to safeguard the economic operability in the Community. Concrete coordinated activities were lacking though. (cp. Button 1992, pp. 14 - 17)

In the following years, the growth in the transport sector, increasingly massive in extent and complex in nature, began. As for passenger transport, the growth encompassed all modes of transportation, the road sector even well above average. Similarly, the freight transportation also experienced a huge surge in the past three and a half decades. This increase was mainly absorbed by the road sector all alone, accepted by the European Commission, while railway and inland waterways remained at their respective (absolute) values of the early 1970s. (cp. ECMT 2005, pp. 22, 32, 49 - 53, 55 - 59)

Questions regarding the financing of and the responsibilities during transport extension or modernisation projects still appeared on the agenda. Yet, despite standing in the face of this dynamic developments, a coordinated approach throughout the European Community has been absent for long, for which again both infrastructural and regulatory assimilation would have been necessary. Aside from the many rather half-hearted notices of intent, comprehensive measures were missing. (cp. Button 1992, pp. 17, 43)

In 1985, when the economic growth has been in place for several years and the then-existing transport system came to its limits, the European Parliament filed a suit against the European Council at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg due to failure to act. The claim was admitted and the European Council correspondingly released new impulses. (cp. Braun-Moser 1989, pp. 9 - 11; cp. Button 1992, pp. 15, 40, 41; cp. Towey 2005)

Immediately after the Court decision has the European Commission published a White Paper containing the legal proposals for the completion of the Internal Market and, with these, the advice for liberalisation and harmonization of the transport policy of the Community. (cp. EurActiv1 2006; cp. Mehl 2004, pp. 42 - 44) This document showed signs of having triggered some acceleration of the process since first cross-border cooperation projects, or such with more than one interested party involved or affected, were to be gone about. (cp. Braun-Moser 1989, pp. 9 – 11; cp. Button 1992, pp. 15, 44)

In the 1990s, several Green Papers, White Papers, notices and other forms of stimuli regarding the transport sector have been issued by the European Union. (cp. EurActiv1 2006; cp. EU-Hist1 n.d.) In 1992, the first White Paper explicitly dealing with the transport sector has been published, which was recommending the further “opening-up of the transport market” (from: EU-WP 2001, p. 10) for European competition. In the same year, the Maastricht Treaty, including “the principle of the need to develop the TENS” (from: Towey 2005) in order to achieve the goals set, was signed. (cp. EU-Hist1 n.d.; cp. EU-WP 2001, pp. 10, 11; cp. Towey 2005) Likewise, “the political, institutional and budgetary foundations for transport policy” (from: EU-WP 2001, p. 10) were laid. In the consecutive year, the completion of the Internal Market has been finalized with effects on the transport sector. (cp. EU-Hist3 n.d.) For instance, the acts concerning Free Movement of Persons and of Goods led to a further boost of cross-national passenger and freight transport.

In 1994, during a European Council in Essen, Germany, the necessity of a transportation network was remembered. The so-called ‘Essen List’ in 1996 with fourteen priority transport infrastructure projects covering all Europe was the outcome there. Again, the ultimate goal lay in economic growth and the enhancement of prosperity. (cp. EurActiv1 2006; cp. EU-Hist4 n.d.) So, until the mid-1990s the general perception implied a proportional relation between the extent of transport infrastructure and economic well-being.


[1] Treaty of Maastricht.

[2] As a part of the Economic and Monetary Union, a “common policy in the sphere of transport” shall be pursued. (from: Eur-Lex n.d.)

[3] Common rules on competition, taxation and approximation of laws

[4] Title IV of the Treaty of Rome deals with the topic of transport explicitly

Excerpt out of 48 pages


Transport policy in Europe
Concepts and objectives for a sustainable transport system
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Institut für Geographie (Wirtschaftsgeographie, insb. Verkehr und Logistik))
Verkehr und Nachhaltigkeit
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
970 KB
Transport, Europe, Verkehr, Nachhaltigkeit, EU-Verkehrspolitik, Europäische Union, EU, Transport Policy, EU-TEN, TEN projects, Sustainability, Modal shift
Quote paper
Dipl.-Kfm. B.B.A. Cyril Alias (Author), 2008, Transport policy in Europe, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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