Academic journal article German Policy Studies

European Transport Policy-A Historical and Forward Looking Perspective

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

European Transport Policy-A Historical and Forward Looking Perspective

Article excerpt


This article discusses the development of European transport policy in historical perspective and the challenges this faces at present. European transport policy took some time to emerge and progress has been slow and with hold-ups due to the long process of approximation of national transport policies and the resulting institutional reforms. The development of European transport policy shows clear phases. Following a rather protracted phase of intense exchange of views with little policy output, during the eighties the common market began to be implemented in transport as well and liberalisation became the overarching goal. The liberal market approach remains today the core idea of European transport policy and it is on this basis that solutions are sought to the pressing problems of congestion and environmental pollution. However the first doubts regarding this approach are also beginning to be voiced, not least by the Commission itself. While it is unlikely that the liberal market approach to transport ceases to be crucial, this contribution ventures the proposition that successfully coping with the problems of congestion and pollution will bring about a paradigm shift towards the re-definition and, in part, re-assertion of the role of the state in transport policy.


Is there a European transport policy? In the nineties--not so long ago--this question was legitimate for two reasons: first, transport mostly concerned infrastructure (investment)--thus wanting to relate transport to policy could understandably have been considered a peculiarity or, worse, an abnormality; second, transport was still primarily a national agenda item, at best the subject of bilateral state agreements.

Today the question no longer leads to raised eyebrows and those questioning the existence of a European transport policy are in the minority. As a new directive on road pricing is under preparation and will consider, among other things, the earmarking of revenues from pricing for the financing of future rail infrastructure investments, it would appear that we are entering a new era in transport policy, namely that of intermodality and strategic planning. In this era a strong emphasis is placed on the coordination between modes and the use of policy instruments other than infrastructure investment, besides harmonisation within the European space.

How correct is this depiction of the development of European transport policy? Does it correspond to reality or is it merely a smart public relations trick of the Brussels technocracy? The answer is that it is neither the former nor the latter. Just as it was wrong back in the early nineties to claim that there was no such thing as a European transport policy, it is wrong today to think that European transport policy is sweeping and going strong. As is true of most European policies, the truth is to be found somewhere in the middle. It is perhaps also for this reason that in the recent years transport policy has gained in interest for the social sciences: the process of European integration or Europeanisation has brought about or made explicit all those potential or actual conflicts that rid transport policy and which render it worthwhile to consider from a social scientific point of view.

This paper has three main objectives: first, to review in historical perspective the development of European transport policy, thus helping to dispense with wrong speculations with regard to the existence and/or significance of European transport policy (section 1); second, to characterise the ideational orientation of contemporary European transport policy and its impact on national transport policies (section 2); third, and against this background, to consider the contemporary challenges to European transport policy and its future direction (section 3). The challenges faced by European transport policy today have less to do with learning a new mode of planning and governance as necessitated by the harmonisation of policies due to Europeanisation, but rather with the contents and orientation of transport policy. …

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