On 1 December 2010, the EU Court of Auditors published a "special report" on the effectiveness of EU investment in rail infrastructure. This report is special only because of its name. For the rest, it incorporates old criticisms about the prioritisation of investments in 22 cross-border rail projects. The court found that considerations of national and local policies continue to prevail on the socio-economic impact of the projects expected across the continent. The original sin of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) is therefore in their selection. One can recall indeed that the chimera of a bridge spanning the Strait of Messina between Sicily and mainland Italy got number one in the list of the TEN-T priority' projects. What the court recalls, in turn, is that priority projects do not include connections with some important sea ports like Marseilles, Bremerhaven or Le Havre.
The report ends with recommendations for improving "the quality of cost-benefit analyses in support of selection procedures under TEN-T". The EU auditor mixes recommendations and encouragements. It suggests to keep focusing investments on cross-border stretches of the projects or using coordinators to ensure their individual follow-up. Despite this, it would be optimistic to believe that the court's recommendations will be followed by tangible results. Especially since it displayed some autism by forgetting that the EU institutions have already adopted a regulation on "competitive" freight corridors. The main purpose of this regulation is precisely to identify and optimise key axes of European rail freight traffic. And the ports of Marseilles, Bremerhaven and Le Havre appear in bright light along these axes.
The ink of the special report was barely dry when European transport ministers debated, on 2 December, national funding for rail infrastructure. The context was different because these discussions will feed into the future EU rail legislation (recast of the first railway package'). It appears that many states are reluctant to provide financial security for five years in return for the maintenance works that rail infrastructure managers undertake over the same period. The real anxiety or simple bluff of member states goes as far as rejecting the principle of a mere strategy for infrastructure development for the same five-year horizon.
The Court of Auditors produces audits on EU expenditure, while the member states want to limit their financial...