26. May 2016

"More EU funding allocated to the roads than to rail"

European Court of Auditors criticises Germany’s investment record

Berlin, May 26, 2016.

The European Court of Auditors’ report on rail transport policy in the EU will be an embarrassment for the European Commission and for several member states. Over the past 15 years, the European Union’s transport policies aimed at enhancing rail freight transport have not been effective, criticised the court’s auditors in their special report on rail freight transport, which was published on Tuesday this week. The list of complaints is long and ranges from disadvantages imposed by the state on rail freight in its competition with road transport, unnecessary “administrative and technical constraints”, and EU funding for the railways being re-allocated to road construction.

The European Court of Auditors criticises Germany – along with the Czech Republic and Poland – for its disproportionate allocation of funding for the different modes of transport. It stated “In three of the five Member States visited, more EU funds had been allocated to roads than to rail during the 2007-2013 period even though the Commission’s policy prioritised more sustainable and efficient methods of transporting goods.” Of the five countries only Spain and France allocated the bulk of the EU funds to rail infrastructure in accordance with the EU’s transport policy objectives.

The German Pro-Rail Alliance is calling for state funding for the German rail network to be increased as soon as possible. At least 6.5 billion euros are required annually. That is only 80 euros per person, which is, for example, what Italy invests.

“The roads receive the cash and the railways get a few nice words. This is a recurring principle that goes through transport policies in Europe as well as in Germany, and contrasts with the promises being made by politicians,” said Dirk Flege, managing director of the Pro-Rail Alliance, on Thursday in Berlin. Against this background “it is not surprising that rail freight’s market share in Europe is stagnating at 17 percent.” There is a ray of hope in Austria and Switzerland, which is not in the EU. Flege: “Both Alpine countries also invest more from their own national budgets in rail infrastructure than in road infrastructure and have transport policies that will make them fit for the future.” In Germany, it is the government’s intention to continue spending considerably more on asphalt than on the railways.

The German government’s transport infrastructure plan proposes that 55 percent of state funding by 2030 will be allocated to road improvements and construction whereas only 40 percent will be allocated to the railways for upgrading infrastructure and new construction, according to the Pro-Rail Alliance.

The European Commission reacted with some understanding to the harsh criticism by the European Court of Auditors, but said it was optimistic about the future of rail freight transport: “The problems (…) are partially due to the fact that the competition is not based on a level playing field (internalisation of external costs),” it stated in its written reply to the auditors’ report. It continued: “Moreover, the Commission is confident that with the actions recently undertaken the modal share of rail freight will increase in the years to come.”

As an independent auditing office, the European Court of Auditors acts as the guardian of the financial interests of the European Union’s taxpayers. It cannot by itself instigate any legal action but contributes to improving the EU financial management of the European Commission and reports on the general finances.


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