Why Europe needs more than an infrastructure upgrade

The Ponte Morandi opened in 1967 as a viaduct on the A10 motorway connecting Genoa to the French Riviera. During a torrential rainstorm last August, a section of it collapsed at its highest point, 45m above the over the port of Genoa. About 35 cars and trucks fell from the bridge, and 43 people died.

The disaster spoke volumes about the inferior state of some of Europe’s infrastructure, and the need not merely to upgrade but to newly build again. In Italy’s case, this was the 11th bridge collapse since 2013. Across the European Union, there are roads, railways, bridges, ports and other mobility spaces that are straining to cope.

The EU, at least, is trying to reverse the rot. Late last year, MEPs voted a €43.85 billion budget between 2021 and 2027 for the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), which supports infrastructure projects that go beyond national borders. This includes €33.51 billion for transport, €7.68 billion for energy and €2.66 billion for digital projects.

The CEF is the dedicated financing instrument to channel EU funding into infrastructure networks, help eliminate market failures and attract further investment from the public and private sectors. It finances European Transport Network (TEN-T) projects, focusing on missing links and cross-border connections – and has a special emphasis on measures that reduce climate change. The Parliament’s position is part of its scrutiny of the EU’s long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework or MFF between 2021 and 2027.

The vote raises the rail budget by almost €6 billion compared to the European Commission’s original proposal. The rail sector looks particularly well placed to benefit from the CEF, and industry bodies like EIM, the European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM), the Community of European Railway (CER) and the Association of the European Rail Industry (UNIFE) all hailed the vote.

Mobility is the basis for jobs and economic growth

That might not be enough, however. Last April, some 45 European associations representing transport, infrastructure and related sectors issued their so-called Ljubljana Declaration asking for €500 billion for the CEF between 2021 and 2030.

But it is an improvement. French MEP Marian-Jean Marinescu, who drafted the Parliament’s CEF legislation, said the measure would help shift Europe towards more efficient and sustainable transport models. “Mobility is the basis for jobs and growth. We need modern and efficient infrastructure in Europe,” he said.

His extra €6 billion is not yet secure: MEPs have begun talks with EU Ministers on a common position, and a compromise might mean trimming it. But the budget is going in the right direction. Too much of Europe’s infrastructure is crumbling. Other parts are outdated or unfit for purpose. The EU cannot afford more tragedies like the Ponte Morandi. If it really wants to fulfil the promise of its single market, open and free, it needs to build roads, railways, bridges and other links that seamlessly connect its many places.