The European Union is by far the major partner for a great number of countries in the southern and eastern Mediterranean, as much from the point of view of trade as passenger traffic. The development of a network of Mediterranean transport infrastructures is therefore a crucial factor in strengthening the economic and financial partnership in the region and in creating a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area. For non-EU Mediterranean countries the importance of this network of transport infrastructures has been unarguable ever since the start of the Barcelona Process, but it has taken some time for Europe, and especially the European Commission, to explicitly recognise and accept this fact. This certainly explains why we have had to wait for about two years before the EU started a genuine debate on the extension of the trans-European transport network to neighbouring Mediterranean countries.
This article attempts to review in summary form the regional initiatives worthy of mention which started between June 2003 and December 2004 related to the development of the said Mediterranean transport network. All these initiatives were to conclude in a programme of action which is in principle to be ratified by the Transport Ministers of all the Euro-Mediterranean countries before the end of 2005.
Before reviewing more recent initiatives, let us remember that, until 2003, only the discussions in the western Mediterranean had really progressed, thanks to the establishment of sub-regional cooperation based around the CETMO and the driving force of the Transport Group of the Western Mediterranean (GTMO). This work in common led to the conclusion, at the beginning of 1997, of the INFRAMED[i] study, which enabled priority corridors in the region and common transport infrastructure needs to be identified, especially in the Maghreb countries. That same year, the European Commission instructed the French Ministry of Public Works to propose – based on the results of INFRAMED and other studies sponsored by the European Commission as part of the Middle East peace process – a priority multimodal network for all the Mediterranean partner countries[ii], in order to submit it to the Third Pan-European Transport Conference in Helsinki.
Taking the INFRAMED study, it is interesting to emphasise the criteria according to which infrastructure needs were selected. Projects were classified into several groups. The first group contained projects whose fundamental goal was the facilitation of Euro-Maghreb trade and involvement in the strengthening of relations between the two sides of the Mediterranean. The second group contained projects supporting the facilitation of Maghreb integration (trans-Maghreb motorway and train), even if the predicted international traffic was fairly small compared to national traffic. The third group contained public works projects for the region which were part of economic development and could have an important impact on regional transport.
In any case it was in 2003 that the European Commission began to place the question of infrastructure at the heart of the debate on the transport sector in the Mediterranean, firstly, with the publication in June 2003 of a Communication on the development of a Euro-Mediterranean transport network[iii]. This communication intended to flesh out the concept of a Euro-Mediterranean transport network by means of defining the aims of the network, its characteristics and the consideration of the inherent constraints on its development. In order to make this network a reality, the Communication proposed a first stage of planning and identification of priority projects in concert with all the countries involved. The main point in such a step was to promote a global and coherent approach to the network which would enable the mobilisation of public and private capital investment for projects identified as priorities.
Two other initiatives, specifically focused on the field of infrastructure, started in 2003, with EU funding: the «Infrastructures» component of the Euromed Transport Project and the DESTIN project.
The «Infrastructures contract» of the Euromed Transport Project[iv] is the tool created by the European Commission to support, from a technical point of view, the process of reflection and debate at an institutional level for the whole Mediterranean. This contract – financed through the MEDA programme – is also intended to build the capacities of Mediterranean partner countries to prepare and implement projects and manage infrastructures, as well as the performance of a limited number of feasibility studies.
DESTIN[v] is, on the other hand, a project of the 5th Framework Programme for research with a sub-regional scope. Although its goal may be the identification of a strategic transport network in the western Mediterranean and priorities for its development in the Maghreb, emphasis is placed on the development of planning and evaluation models suited to the region. In order to implement the project, a consortium made up of European and Maghreb partners has stepped in, within which the CETMO is acting as a coordinator. For their part, the Transport Ministers of the region are following up the project in order to verify that the methods used are practical and lasting and to validate the results obtained.
To the two previous initiatives should be added the creation in 2004 of a High Level Group for the extension of the major axes of trans-European transport to neighbouring countries, on the initiative of the European Commission. The formation of this group follows the thrust of the European Neighbourhood Policy, which will create a new financial instrument from 2007 onwards – the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument – which will replace MEDA and other aid programmes connected to neighbouring countries. The group – presided over by the former Vice-President Mrs Loyola de Palacio – met for the first time in Brussels in October 2004 and aims to finish its work in autumn 2005.
The aim of the High Level Group is to make recommendations on the way the major trans-European transport axes should be extended to all neighbouring countries – not only Mediterranean countries – and to identify the priority projects along these axes. The group’s approach, in connection with the Euromed Transport Project, focuses on the north-south axis in the Mediterranean area and on a very limited number of major corridors linking the EU with neighbouring regions. The group’s conclusions will enable an agreement to be reached with the non-EU countries over which projects should be targeted for investment in infrastructure over the next few years, taking into account the restrictions on available resources.
All the initiatives mentioned above – to which should be added others which already exist to reform the sector and improve the efficiency of transport operations – seem promising for Third Mediterranean Countries. For a long time, the representatives of the partner countries had had to defend the need for complementarity between the development of a network of infrastructures and the implementation of measures for the facilitation of transport, and also their priority for international transport in the Mediterranean, to European Commission officials. In 2003, these two priorities were finally integrated into a programme of regional cooperation.
However, there are still some doubts to clear up in the months to come. Some are strategic – such as the planned link between the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Barcelona Process – while others are more practical, for example, the way the results and conclusions of the various initiatives in progress will be integrated once they are completed. Above and beyond that, however, there is a basic unknown factor, the problem of financing the action plan which will be submitted to the next Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Transport Ministers. There is no doubt that the next stage in Mediterranean cooperation in the field of transport should concern the way in which the various sources of funding, private and public, and including funding from the EU, can best be mobilised and brought together.
[i] INFRAMED – Study into transport infrastructure needs in the western Mediterranean. GTMO (1997).
[ii]CORRIMED Report: “Priorities for transport in the Mediterranean”. French Ministry of Equipment, Accommodation, Transport and Tourism (1997).
[iii] Communication of the Commission to the Council of Europe and European Parliament on the development of a Euro-Mediterranean transport network. COM(2003) 376 final.
[v] DESTIN – Defining and Evaluating a Strategic Transport Infrastructure Network in the Western Mediterranean. A project in the Fifth framework programme of the European Community for research, technological development coordinated by the CETMO (www.destinweb.net / www.cetmo.org).