So near and yet so far. The challenges of transport cooperation between the European Union and Eastern Partnership countries
The main content of the report is an analysis and assessment of the state of cooperation between the EU and EaP countries in terms of transport policy. The report also identifies the basic barriers to mutual cooperation and proposes possible changes and improvements which might comprehensively harmonise the transport systems of EU and EaP countries. It is worth noting that the recommendations relate to more than just infrastructure investments such as new stretches of road or railway, which in terms of public opinion are the most visible manifestations of transport policy. They also include regulatory measures in keeping with the values and standards in force in the EU: liberalisation of markets and the creation of space for citizens to undertake economic activity – opening markets and increasing competition – constitute an important element of economic activation and modernisation.
In 2009, it was assumed that the EaP would develop in two directions: firstly, bilaterally, focusing on strengthening the relations of individual countries with the EU, and secondly, multilaterally, with initiatives for all partners. The issue of transport belongs to both these dimensions, although the multilateral dimension seems to be key as its objective is to facilitate the movement of people and goods across all borders between the EU and EaP countries, and between the EaP countries themselves. With this in mind, the proposed investment activities in this study concern the entire border area, although this area is very geographically and economically diverse, which may contribute to the uneven use of the proposed infrastructure.
It is worth emphasising that although six countries have been invited into the EaP, only half of them (Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova) share borders with EU countries. The three remaining countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), though they do not lie in the immediate neighbourhood, do play an important role in cooperation, including in terms of transport. This is because the countries of the South Caucasus are an important hub on the routes connecting the EU with China, the Middle East and India. The proposed infrastructure measures also take this fact into account.
After creating the majority of the basic legal basis for EU relations with EaP countries and lifting/liberalisation of the EU visa regime for the citizens of these countries, the EaP will mainly be built on sectoral cooperation. Of the various sectoral cooperation objectives in the Declaration of the 5th EaP Summit in Brussels and the “20 deliverables for 2020” document, priority should be given to those related to expanding mutual connections (connectivity). This should apply mainly to transport cooperation, which:
1. creates the most added value in other areas (cross-cutting synergies);
2. is accepted by all EaP countries and adapted to their needs (differentiation and ownership);
3. brings concrete results to EU and EaP citizens (tangible results)
Liberalising transport markets and harmonising technical regulations stimulates economic development. The expansion of transport connections between the EU and the EaP should start by addressing regulatory issues. However, the two systems cannot be integrated without investment activities. The report identifies those sections of the transport networks that are key to system integration. Priority should be given to neglected cross-border sections of the road, rail and river networks. Of all the analysed sectors, it is rail that requires the greatest involvement of public policies. Its low competitiveness, which results from excessive regulation and investment deficits, negatively affects the cost-effectiveness and environmental costs of transport.