coverGoing Trans-European: Planning and Financing Transport Networks for Europe [Review]
Journal of Transport Geography 8(4), December 2000 Pages 312-313
Going Trans-European: Planning and Financing Transport Networks for Europe,
Mateu Turrķ; Elsevier Science, Oxford, 1999,
xii+358 pages, ISBN 0 08 043059 7, hbk ($89).
Roger Vickerman

Centre for European Regional and Transport Economics University of Kent at Canterbury UK The history of the European Union is riddled with grand ideas. Different Commissions, and their Presidents in particular, have taken themes for their periods of office. Trans-European networks (TENs) are a clear product of the Delors¯Santer era of the 1990s. TENs started to come to prominence at the beginning of the decade, after the Commission had been found guilty of failing to progress the Common Transport Policy. They received a boost under the Delors White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment and continued to achieve prominence during Neil Kinnock's period as Commissioner for Transport (perhaps the highest profile Commissioner for this policy area in the EU's history).

For all the emphasis placed on TENs it is difficult to identify a major change in infrastructure provision at a European level. During the Kinnock era emphasis shifted (as it was doing within most member states) away from the "predict and provide" philosophy of infrastructure towards one of more efficient use of infrastructure based first on identifying the full costs of transport and then on "fair and efficient pricing" for infrastructure use. This left the concept of TENs as an instrument of integration needing redefinition, especially in the context of increasingly tight public funds under the Maastricht convergence criteria for economic and monetary union and the need to apportion more clearly the benefits from TENs between member states and any private sector interests.

Mateu Turrķ's book is therefore timely, though it is not immediately clear if it is a handbook, a polemic or a history. In eight chapters Turrķ provides a very comprehensive view of the development of the TENs idea, a critical account of the planning process and a detailed account of the problems of financing TENs. There can be few, if any, better qualified to provide this account; Turrķ himself is Economic Advisor in the Projects Directorate of the European Investment Bank where he has been directly involved in the finance of TENs. It is clearly an influential and authoritative account and a contribution to the ongoing (and overdue) revision of the TEN guidelines.

The book starts with an overview of the current problems of transport and infrastructure in Europe, followed by a short history of TENs. The core of the book, Chapters 4¯6, deals with the problems of the original TEN guidelines, the principles for rethinking the planning framework and the critical question of how to realise the elusive multi-modal TEN. There is a detailed chapter on financing before a final summarising chapter, which sets out a blueprint for "going trans-European".

There is no doubt that this is a comprehensive account, but the tendency to veer between polemic and blueprint makes for some unsatisfactory emphases in parts of the book. In particular, the lack of a unifying theoretical or analytical framework to hold the argument together, and a rather selective use of the literature, make the book rather difficult to use as a student text. Many of the key arguments are addressed, but not developed, often just being left to a footnote reference. On several occasions I found myself wanting to know more about what Turrķ really thought, but the argument was left inconclusive. I can, however, see Turrķ being preached in favour of all sorts of positions.

Turrķ is an enthusiast for the idea of trans-European networks, but not an apologist for the TENs as we have seen them develop. His major theme is the problem in defining the appropriate criteria for a genuine multi-modal network. He, rightly in the opinion of this reviewer, sees the various modal TENs as being too dominated by bottom-up regional interests which have led to expensive duplication of rail, road and air networks. Being left off the network is regarded as too costly for any region, though there is no real way of evaluating what this cost might be in economic terms. Turrķ includes a substantial political component in his discussion, thus placing attempts at comprehensive cost-benefit analyses in context. But what is the better basis for the TEN guidelines? Turrķ argues that there is a "golden triangle of goals" ¯ efficiency, sustainability and cohesion. Efficiency is dealt with in terms of the conventional elements of a cost-benefit analysis. Sustainability is discussed in terms of improving the logic, and evaluation methods, of environmental appraisal. Cohesion is cast in terms of accessibility to networks and the social and European integration impacts of TENs, but also job creation which is an element of the competitiveness argument used in the earlier Delors White Paper. What do not come out sufficiently, however, are the implicit contradictions in trying to get a single instrument ¯ transport infrastructure ¯ to solve these various policy goals simultaneously. This is especially the case given the problems of financing even the core elements of the TENs put forward in the lists developed at the Essen and Corfu summits and subsequently extended to include corridors in the candidate countries as a result of the transport infrastructure needs assessment (TINA) in Central and Eastern Europe. Turrķ's solution to this in Chapter 8 is a "more assertive role for the European institutions", including the creation of a European Transport Infrastructure Agency. Such an agency would "co-ordinate the development of the network and ensure its smooth operation". Although there is no clear set of operational rules as to how it would do this, it fits with many observers' frustration at the difficulty of getting things done in the EU when they involve international links. Turrķ sees the Agency as "acting as catalyst and arbiter", but he recognises that its role would be governed by the subsidiarity principle. How the balance of a more assertive agency, trying to push through projects of international interest, and subsidiarity is resolved is not revealed. There is a strong argument for a European Rail Agency, as would be agreed by all those who find themselves frustrated as passengers trying to buy a through ticket for travel within a rail network which has suffered fragmentation, or, more importantly, by shippers finding that their goods still spend hours if not days languishing at border crossings between national rail administrations' jurisdictions. There is also a need for new modes of finance. The EIB is urged to take more risks, particularly in trying to reduce the costs of finance to public¯private partnerships, and there should be a more pro-active role for the European Infrastructure Fund. The financial proposals are interesting, given the authority which Turrķ brings to this discussion, but I found I was left wanting to know more in this area: how would it work, what sort of projects would it favour, how would the resulting network differ, would it be larger, would it be geographically different, would it be biased towards the more profitable links?

In summary, there is a lot that is thought provoking in the book, a lot that this reviewer found to agree with, a lot to question, and rather a lot left in the air. As a history it is valuable, as a polemic it is provocative in places, as a handbook it is limited, as a textbook it lacks sufficient analytical structure ¯ but for the surfer an added bonus; the maps (in colour) and tables are available on a dedicated web site.


Last updated on Tuesday, 31 August 2004 01:16:25

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