Members of the European Parliament and policymakers from the European Commission have made calls to use investment in transport infrastructure and intelligent systems as a means to encourage economic growth in the European Union. The remarks have come on the eve of a budget decision in the European Parliament that will determine the allocation of funds for the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) programme.
Speaking at a dinner debate this week organised by the Association of European Vehicle Logistics (ECG) in Brussels, Boguslaw Liberadzki, Polish MEP and member of the Transport Committee, encouraged fellow policy makers and industry representatives to push for more than only cuts and austerity. "There are measures that we should be looking at, such as a financial transaction tax, that could mean more than only cuts and austerity, but help us to grow the European economy with infrastructure [investment]", he said.
According to Liberadzki, on Thursday this week the parliament will make a decision about how much money will be available for TEN-T, which is supporting infrastructure links between member states, for the 2014-2019 period. The current proposals are for an expansion of the budget threefold to €30m from €8m in the 2007-2013 period. "But consider that the estimated funds needed in this period are more than ten times at that amount, at around €350m", said Liberadzki.
Liberadzki stressed that the more investment was important for the EU and for transport providers, particularly as European policy has moved in the direction of increasing taxes and environmental regulations that push up the price of transport, including proposals already laid out in the EC's latest policy white paper to 'internalise the external costs' of transport and adopt a more 'user/polluter pays' model.
Indeed, while the threefold increase would be significant, it still represents a small percentage of the investment for research and development across the transport and logistics sector in Europe. According to Magda Kopczynska, head of unit maritime transport and logistics at the commission's DG MOVE department, in 2008 European public funding at the member state level totalled €44 billion, or 8% of total investment. Corporate or private investment, on the other hand, made up 90% of total spending. "At the European level, we represented only 1.4% of spending," she said. "Even if we get the extra funds, we need to hear directly from industry, as we cannot afford to waste a single euro of investment."
But even if it represents a fraction of total investment, policy makers stressed the importance of the funds for removing bottlenecks and improving transport and freight corridors. Andreas Karl Faegemann, transport attaché from the Permanent Representation of Denmark to the EU, gave the example of the corridor being developed between Copenhagen and Hamburg, slated for completion in 2020, which will shorten the transit time between the cities. "Denmark needs the support from the TEN-T programme. Without it, this project would not be possible," he said.
Emphasising Denmark's objectives as the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, Faegemann again pointed to transport investment as a means of growth. "The role of transport infrastructure investment as a means of growth out of the crisis is vital," he said.
While the speakers may have been generally short on detail, there were nevertheless some encouraging signs about the potential for transport investment. Malcolm Harbour, British MEP and chairman of the internal market committee, as well as a former veteran of the automotive and logistics sector, said that for the first time, transport was one of the 12 "growth levers" for the single market. "Sustainable transport, IT systems, empty transport miles-this is all on our agenda," he said.
But industry representatives, and ECG members, questioned whether European policy continues to work in favour of growth or even a 'single market'. ECG president Costantino Baldissara and vice president Wolfgang Göbel presented the Association's position on several notable issues, including a proposal to harmonise the allowable loaded length for vehicle transporters to at least 20.75 metres across the EU compared to the current patchwork.
While Göbel pointed to the positive step that the EC was planning to review its policy on weights and measures, he expressed disappointment that the ECG had not been invited to the consultation.
The ECG also presented its proposals for exemptions from the EU adoptions and extensions of the MARPOL regulations on low sulphur fuel emission control areas, which will mandate the use of 0.1% sulphur fuel in most European waters by 2015. The ECG suggested that fuel prices could rise 70% as a result and there could be a modal shift of water-based transport to land by as much as 50%.
While there was not much direct response to these and other issues, Liberadzki spoke in defence of the transport sector. He warned that the EU risked making itself less competitive if it implemented environmental policy on its own. "If CO2 legislation is not introduced globally, then Europe is going to be worse off [financially]," he said. 
Liberadzki also hinted at increasing some measure of protection from competitors outside the single market, in what was perhaps a veiled reference to free trade negotiations with countries such as India, which has been controversial in the eyes of some for allowing Indian companies preferential access to EU markets without equally open access in India.
"Liberalisation is a tool [for growth], not an effect. Maybe the time will come for more rather than less regulation," said Liberadzki. "For example, what about access to the internal market from competitors? Is the market protected enough from [the transport industry's] point of view?
"We are interested in your success," he said to a room full of representatives from the vehicle logistics industry. "I am not calling for protectionism, but for a sense of stability. In the EU, [European transport providers] should feel at home and should be able to grow."