Mrs. Bulc, what are the priorities of the European Commission in the field of transport for 2017?
My main focus is on improving efficiency in the EU’s single transport area, and increasing connectivity with key international partners. Our strategy is focused around the following objectives: decarbonisation, digitalisation, global leadership and people-focused policy; all underpinned and enabled by investment and innovation. In this context, we keep looking for innovative ways of financing our transport and promote clean, digital and people-focused mobility. Besides investment, I have called 2017 to be the „Maritime Year“ to review EU policy on maritime transport and work to a sustainable maritime sector that is also fit for the digital age. We hope to deliver tangible results and ensure the long-term performance of the European maritime transport system as a whole to the benefit of all other economic sectors and to the final consumer. Road safety is also one of our top priorities this year. This week, we endorsed the Valletta Declaration on Road Safety in Malta with Transport Ministers of the Member States. I am pleased we committed to reinforce measures necessary to halve the number of serious injuries in the EU between 2020 and 2030. The sector will also face profound changes with a set of Mobility Package that will be proposed in May, which are designed to make the sector competitive as well as socially and environmentally responsible. At the same time, we continue to work on the Aviation Strategy to foster innovation and enable European aviation to flourish globally. For instance, Regulation 868 will be reformed, new EASA rules will be adopted and we will develop regulation concerning the use of Drones in our airspace, which I except to draw a lot of attention.
The Juncker Plan has been working for more than a year. How is the interaction of the plan with the funds earmarked for transport going so as to achieve a common progress in the less developed parts of the European Union?
The Investment Plan has been a success story and we have proposed to extend the EFSI (the so-called „EFSI 2.0“ proposal), with the aim to mobilise at least €500 billion by 2020. I am pleased that the European Investment Bank has approved till March 36 EFSI transport projects, triggering €15 billion in related investment. I am sure that there is a high number of good transport projects which may be good candidates for the EU Investment Plan and for blending opportunities in the Cohesion Countries, and we start to see increasing projects in Cohesion countries including PPPs and clean transport investments. They just need sound, realistic technical and financial engineering, upfront preparation before entering into implementation and financing phases. So for the first time, last year we have organised an investment conference within the TEN-T Days in Rotterdam to address this issue with private investors. Last year we have also started a roadshow with EFSI workshops to inform the governments about the financial opportunities. The road show in Sofia with a regional investment conference.
How important is transport for the further development of the common market and for further enhancement of the EU competitiveness? What is your vision for the development of infrastructure in the European Union? At a forum in Bratislava last year you said that nearly 700 billion euros are needed.
Within Europe, my focus is on the single market. I want to make sure that transport is as efficient as possible. That it is enabler of the economy and not an obstacle. In order for Europe to deliver on these priorities, investment is essential. And as I mentioned in Bratislava nearly 700 billion euros are needed just to complete the TEN-T priority corridors by 2030. The need for investment is key for the efficiency of the EU internal market, for our competitiveness and global lead. The latest rankings from the WEF Global competitiveness are indicating a decline in EU transport infrastructure competitiveness, in particular in the most developed countries. Transport is an enabler of our companies and regions’ competitiveness as well as of citizens’ wellbeing. For these reasons, the Trans-European Network (TEN-T) programme is a key element of EU transport policy, and we have several instruments available: the Connecting Europe Facility, the EIB financing including via EFSI, the grants and financial instruments via the European Structural and Investment funds, and the Horizon 2020 for research. In addition, we have established with EIB a European Investment Advisory Hub to help with project preparation and financial structuring advice (which is free for public authorities). Finally, we are taking measure to enhance the regulatory environment (such as reducing capital charges for insurances and banks investing in long-term infrastructure, or clarifying the treatment of PPPs in national budgets), and we are keen to see progress in this area at Member States level as well.
How is Bulgaria managing with it? What is your assessment of the implementation of the first programming period in our country? Where should we focus our efforts to improve the implementation process? How is the implementation of the projects from the current period going?
Bulgaria has a very strong planning in Railway sector, i.e. the modernisation of Orient-East/Med transport corridor (its horizontal axe). Through TEN-T and CEF programs during the entire period of 2007-2015, 38 projects with a total grant of € 376,6 million were financed. Despite of very strong efforts on railway, other transport investment areas are lagging behind. We are encouring Bulgaria to give a new focus on the corridor’s modernization. Bulgaria’s low share of TEN-T funding (2007-2013) is mostly due to the fact that it was also benefiting from the Cohesion Fund and ERDF, which allowed higher co-funding rates, in particular as regards works Action. Bulgaria should give further attention to the programing of actions post 2020 giving additional focus of removing bottle necks on Orient-East/Med corridor vertical axe. Lessons learned during the 2007-2013 period contributed to very successful applications submitted by Bulgaria in CEF 2014-2015 calls in the fields of railway and inland waterway. Three major railways works projects for the development of the Sofia- Septemvri railway line were recommended for funding.
One of the key projects not only for Bulgaria but also for the region is the construction of Lot 3.2 of Struma Motorway. What happens to it?
The Struma Motorway is a TEN-T project that is being constructed in several lots (Lots 1, 2 and 4 were financed under the 2007-2013 financial framework. Lot 3 (about 62 km long) that remains to be constructed is the most controversial one as it passes through the so-called ‘Kresna Gorge’ which also hosts Natura 2000 sites. Am I aware that over 10 different technical alternatives have been developed and considered for Lot 3.2 over the years. The Bulgarian authorities are collaborating closely with the Commission and I am convinced they will find an acceptable alternative for all parties.
The EU invests in young people and their mobility. Please tell us more about this.
European youth mobility is indeed an important issue and is at the heart of our agenda this year. The issue of youth mobility is consistent with two essential priorities of the European Commission: to put a renewed focus on Europe’s youth and facilitate EU citizens’ mobility. This year, the European Voluntary Service has been launched. It helps young people to participate in volunteering projects abroad in areas such as youth work, cultural activities, social care or environmental protection. By 2020, we intend to see the first 100 000 young Europeans signed up. Similarly, 300 000 people using InterRail tickets every year. Regarding mobility and young Europeans, I also want to highlight that this year is marked by the 30th anniversary of Erasmus, which has been offering to 5 million young Europeans the opportunity to gain new experiences and broaden their horizons by going abroad. Also in the transport sector we launched this week the initiative Move2Learn, Learn2Move. We offer a new opportunity for at least 5,000 young people to travel to another EU country in a sustainable manner – individually or together with their school class. We want to give young Europeans the chance to discover Europe, make their own first hand experiences and travel in the most sustainable way, which is why CO2 emissions will be taken into account. I will continue to support the mobility of young Europeans.