Brussels, 7 July, 2011
Freedom of movement is something we all tend to take for granted in Europe – but it shouldn’t stop at the borders.
Recent history in the countries to the south of us and the east of us reminds us that ease of travel is not a given.
I myself remember how people needed a passport even to move around inside the old Soviet Union – let alone outside.
Today if we are serious about a relationship with our neighbours we need to provide the infrastructure which is essential for an efficient flow of goods and people across borders. And we need to cut away the bureaucracy and bottlenecks which currently accounts for 40% of travel time between the EU and some of neighbouring countries.
In practical terms that means building on the good work that that has been going on strengthening transport connections with our neighbours to the south; where air passenger numbers, for example, haves been growing at nearly 7% per annum over the last 5 years.
Now we want to add more focus to the east.
Imagine a journey from Berlin to Kiev. At the moment it can take up to a full 24 hour day by rail – and a tiring 24 hours at that!
With compatible tracks and rolling stock that that journey could be a very manageable 6 hours – assuming we also streamline the custom’s formalities and paperwork.
By itself, all of this would be of great benefit for our citizens and our neighbours. Transport changes travel and travel opens people’s minds.
But there is more to it than that. Our neighbours to the East and South are a significant market place. Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and South Caucasus countries already account for EU exports worth 25 billion euro per year. And most importantly these countries link us directly to Asia.
To the south the figures are even more impressive. The chain of countries which stretches from Morocco to Lebanon represents already 10% of total EU external trade. And the population of these countries is booming.
Depending of course on political developments, the potential export market is huge as the population moves from 200 million today towards 270 million in 2030.
Improved trade flows needs improved infrastructure.
And that’s what this is intended to deliver.
Source – European Commission.