Euro arteries await bypass ops

Trans-European Network
May 22, 1998

Long before "Europe" existed there were European communication networks - pathways through primeval forests, great rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube, Alpine and Pyreneean passes, drovers' trails. Debra Johnson and Colin Turner take Roman roads as their earliest example. As Gibbon felicitously put it, Rome's public highways "pervaded the provinces, and were terminated only by the frontiers of the empire". Such networks facilitated the movement of people and goods, but also military dominance. Indeed, just as the primary object of the Roman roads had been "to facilitate the marches of the legions", so the militaristic themes of domination and subjugation colour Johnson and Turner's somewhat perfunctory historical review.

Political, ideological and cultural influence have never been far behind their military and economic step-sisters. Last, and by no means least, the Roman road network embodied its own economic dynamic. Roads had to be built and, once built, maintained. Staging posts mushroomed and grew into towns.

The jargon may have changed, but not the underlying principles; from Phoenician trading routes to pilgrims' trails to grandes randonnees, there have always been trans-European networks, freeing up the movement of goods and people, of armies and religions, of ideas, culture, capital, and labour, but also creating their own economic and cultural dynamics.

The difference in our day is that, pace the more extreme Eurosceptic propaganda, "Europe" is no longer an object for subjugation but increasingly exists as an economic and political entity. A new and complementary logic has infused the old principles. The same geographic and economic features that once made Europe's economies strong - the cultural diversity and political inelasticity that encouraged innovation and competition - now risk hamstringing a newly deregulated and increasingly harmonised European economy. In particular, it was soon recognised that the projected benefits of the single market could only be fully realised if Europe's infrastructure was rationalised and liberalised. Hence the new project introduced by the 1991 Maastricht Treaty, providing for the creation of Trans-European Networks (Tens) in order to "derive full benefit from the setting-up of an area without internal frontiers". The primary emphasis was to be on interconnection, interoperability and access.

Johnson and Turner examine the various aspects of Tens, with separate chapters devoted to transport, telecommunications and energy, and a further chapter on finance. The authors have thus provided a handy reference work which provides a no-frills analysis of each sector. But if the book is strong on detail, it is weak on the larger picture. It spells out in passing the potential employment effects of the various Tens but almost entirely neglects the political agenda of the early 1990s, when the third Delors Commission, exercised by Europe's perennial problems of structural unemployment, sought means of offsetting the deflationary consequences of the thrust towards monetary union. Tens were conceived at one and the same time as a job creation project and a vital means of realising the full potential of the internal market.

But the national governments were not prepared to seek short-term employment effects through investment in public works. Rather, they looked primarily to the longer-term employment effects of the post-1992 single market. As Neil Kinnock, the commissioner now responsible for Tens, stated in a recent speech: "While large numbers of jobs are created during the construction of infrastructure, the main effect of the networks strategy will be evident from its long-term consequences for the increased competitiveness of the European economy and the jobs and growth generated as a result."

Kinnock has repeatedly recognised the improbability of the member state governments dipping deep into their pockets to fund major infrastructure projects when they are preoccupied with constricting their budgets to meet the convergence criteria of monetary union. Hence his insistence on public-private partnerships. Tens will always suffer from a paradox: all agree on their potential benefits, but these are largely unquantifiable, whereas the large initial investments typically involved are all too quantifiable.

Martin Westlake is head of unit for institutional relations in the European Commission, Brussels, and associate member, Centre for Legislative Studies, University of Hull.

Trans-European Network

Author - Debra Johnson and Colin Turner
ISBN - 0333649842
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £45.00
Pages - 228

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