Europe’s Transport future for a more inclusive union, under the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 was debated in the European Parliament between the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Crețu, and Greek Transport Minister Christos Spirtzis.
Crețu came out strongly in defence of Greece, reiterating the rolse she played during the economic crisis that gave Greece the opportunity to complete works under a 100% co-financing rate.
“Greece is a part of my heart, I fought in front of the European Parliament to have exceptional measures (taken) in exceptional times,” said Crețu, who also congratulated Spirtzis and the Greek government for the handling of the situation in Greece under difficult circumstances.
The EU executive has invested up to €70 billion in the transport sector, with €30 billion being especially allocated to the trans-European transport networks (TNT).
“Our aims is to expand the rail networks by 4,600km while more than 2,000km TNT roads are constructed,” added Crețu, who has been active when it comes to inspecting most European projects on the ground. “One of the most moving moments for me was in Tempi [Greece] with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras” said Crețu, who added that their visit to what was one of the most dangerous stretches of the road to Thessaloniki was a watershed moment for her.
The trip from Romania to Thessaloniki used to take 9-10 hours in the 1990s, but can now be completed in 3-4 hours by car.
The Commissioner outlined her plans for the simplification of regulations, especially on the Common Provisions Regulation by saying, “We want a radical simplification of the regulations…We hope for the support of the European Parliament to approve the next Multiannual Financial Framework as soon as possible,” added Crețu.
“People that drive to Thessaloniki, that use the Athens metro, and that will use the Thessaloniki metro in the future do not know that that more 85% of the funding comes from the EU. This is important for people to know, in order to defend the European project. We are living through difficult times and with many challenges. It is our duty as Europeans to prove how much the EU is doing for its citizens, both in financial and investment terms,” said Crețu.
Progressive forces must join powers
With te European elections in the immediate horizon, the bloc’s progressive forces have to present a new narrative of productive reconstruction. “The Trans-European Transport networks should be completed to create a new European narrative,” said Spirtzis.
“Productive reconstruction can be facilitated by sustainable investment policy, recovery of human capital, environmental protection, and secure jobs. This is our proposal for Greece, the Balkans, and Europe,” added the minister. “The other side of the political spectrum’s proposals all come together as neoliberal suggestions that, in order to make Europe competitive, governments will have to further cut costs”. However, this narrative does not take into account the very high cost of protecting the environment. “This is a high cost for the projects,” `Spirtzis said, “in addition to the cost of the welfare state, Justice, and rule of law and…the cost of Democracy.“
According to Spirtzis, the European Commission and the European Investment Bank have to step away from the logic that a project should only be financed if we can guarantee its viability. According to the minister, there must be other criteria, such as development and productive reconstruction, as well as road safety. “Projects create growth in local societies,” he said before adding, “It is the duty of all of us…to maintain our views, our diversity and our disagreements.”
Regarding the recently ratified Prespes Agreement that ends the Name Dispute with what is now North Macedonia, Spirtzis believes a new dynamic has now been formed in the Balkans. “Greece will no longer be a border country for Europe, but can now look inwards towards the Balkans,” added the minister.
New transport networks between Greece and the rest of the Balkans will help connect the ports of Northern Greece – Thessaloniki, Kavala, and Alexandroupolis with Bulgaria’s Black Sea ports. “A connection with Romania should be at the centre of our attention,” added Spirtzis, suggesting that the projects are now up for funding by the European Commission.
“These projects will further guarantee the interconnection and integration of Bulgaria and Romania as members of the EU, but will also upgrade the role of Serbia and North Macedonia by bringing them closer to Europe,” Spirtzis told New Europe. “The same results will be achieved through the road interconnection with Albania and other regions of the Western Balkans in order to achieve better cooperation, more stability”.
The rail connection between Thessaloniki and the borders of North Macedonia will be complete within the next few weeks, which allows for second line to be implemented that reaches the North Macedonian capital Skopje.” During the second phase, the interconnection of Skopje with Belgrade is also part of the plan,” concluded the minister.
As one of the organisers of the debate, Miltos Kyrkos, S&D MEP, said on the eve of European elections, the clash is now between pro- and anti- European forces who will dominate the political dialogue. “We should be standing for more Europe, a common economic policy”. Greece’s experience underlined that the country failed to compose its own policy programmes to exit the crisis.
German MEP Ismail Ertug who was also present at the debate, outlined the challenges the European Parliament will face as a member of the Committee of Transport and Tourism.. “As the Transport Committee, we ask for €10 billion, but the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development says €4 billion is enough, and refuses to earmark this amount for TNTs,” said Ertug, who also revealed cities and airports absorb most money, leading to the lack of cross border connection within the EU. “