27 September 2023, Brussels | “The green transition in mobility is going well, but it could be a lot better. Until 2040 and 2050, the infrastructure we need to build, will be impossible to achieve on an individual level.” With this conclusion, Turi Fiorito director of the European Federation of Inland Ports (EFIP), underlined how important cross-border cooperation is in securing the future of sustainable infrastructure and mobility, the essence of the HNP & ITEM Side Event on sustainable cross-border infrastructure and mobility in North-West Europe’s Delta Corridor.
How to realize transnational sustainable European corridors in cross-border regions?
On the 27th of September 2023, European politicians, policymakers, scientists and students came together to discuss the future of sustainable infrastructure and mobility in Europe, specifically focusing on the cooperation of cross-border regions in the Netherlands, North Rhine-Westphalia and the Benelux. The event was organized by the House of the Dutch Provinces (HNP) and the Institute for Transnational and Euregional cross border cooperation and Mobility (ITEM).
In the joint opening interview, Prof. dr. Anouk Bollen, ITEM director, and Arthur van Dijk, the HNP president and King’s Commissioner of the Province of North Holland, discussed the European need for sustainable infrastructure and mobility. Transport corridors that stretch over a great surface, encompassing multiple regions and European countries, offer a clean way to transport goods, such as energy. As a result, a green future requires cross-border cooperation. “Member states sometimes think only for themselves, but transport and logistics should be seamless across borders. It is important to have good policies in place,” according to Van Dijk. And for this, research is vital, as Bollen mentioned. “We as ITEM do research from a cross- border perspective, deliver the content, show the obstacles and present possibilities and solutions.”
Lessons learned so far
North-West Europe has a big role to play in realizing a sustainable future for transport and mobility, with European projects already in place to explore green cross-border mobility. Which lessons have we learned and what improvements can we make in the future? Markus Bangen, CEO at Duisburg Port, stated that best practices resulting from the cooperation with the ports in Europe are valuable and repay themselves in different ways. “For joint projects, you need trust. Having successes helps with building trust and it makes it easier to do joint projects in the future. ” says Bangen.
European inland ports are fully engaged in finding sustainable solutions such as hydrogen and shore power, although there are still many obstacles to overcome. According to Fiorito, good alignment of different political, financial and tax systems between EU member states is essential and the key to bridging these gaps is within the hands of politicians. Fiorito: “We sometimes forget that long-term political commitment comes from two sides of the border. There are different authorities. When you don’t have that commitment, it all slows down.” Likewise, the North Sea Port plans to improve accessibility. The Rail Ghent-Terneuzen project aims to connect existing railways at three key points, but encounters obstacles. “In the first run, we signed a letter of intent. However, when we come to it, leading organizations decided to do their own thing by developing the railtrack. But in the border there needs to be an agreement.” according to Hans de Meij, project coordinator Rail Ghent-Terneuzen, North-Sea Port.
The youth holds the future
When we discuss the future of sustainable transport and mobility, it is important to incorporate the voices of the generation who will be impacted the most by the consequences of (the lack of) appropriate green policies. The obstacles mentioned in the previous panel are nothing new to Robert-Jan van der Zwaag, Chair of the Young RDW (Netherlands Vehicle Authority), but more is to be done if we want the next generation to be able to deal with upcoming challenges. “Young people are often forgotten when making plans. They are seen as a way to promote, but are not really incorporated in the plans. Especially on sustainable development.” If this isn’t done in a timely matter, we will not only have failed to fulfil our promises as policy makers to the general public now, but we will also fail the future generations.
Students Jenna van Roovert and Guy Dumoulin, who participated in the PREMIUM Project: ITEM, on cross-border public transport at Maastricht University, surveyed fellow students who travel from Aachen and Liège. There is no direct line between these cities, which impacts the reliability of public transport here negatively. This affects a lot of young people every day. And as long as they are not part of the conversation, it is difficult to make policy decisions with young people in mind.
Tackling barriers and presenting solutions
The third panel involved a lively debate around developing a sustainable vision with according policies. Herald Ruijters, acting deputy Director-General of DG MOVE at the European Commission, commented on the role of the EU and its package for sustainable transport and mobility: TEN-T, which aims to stimulate alternative fuels and environmentally friendly transport modes. However, a lot of work is still to be done in order to be fully decarbonized by 2050, such as bridging differences in legislation and permits. According to Martin Unfried, senior researcher at ITEM, new instruments and cross-border initiatives are necessary to align procedures and work processes in different countries. “We have seen many letters of intent, but we need more implementation tools. Innovative instruments, like coordinated permitting or new cross-border spatial planning coordination, for example. There are things we must do to accelerate these projects.”
Director of Inland Navigation Europe (INE) Karin de Schepper, explained how inland waterway transport contributes to an improved environmental status and helps to reach sustainability goals on a cross-border level. “We are doing our best with political declarations. But at a certain point, you need to implement. When you look at the inland waterway infrastructure, you need reliability.” Like the inland waterways, maritime ports play a central role in sustainable transport and infrastructure as they serve as cross-border multimodal hubs. Lieselot Marinus, head of EU public affairs at the port Antwerp-Bruges, sees a clear role for maritime ports: “The energy transition is crucial and ports are taking a more and more active role. Connectivity with other ports and the hinterland is important. A harmonized, EU policy is needed to reach these goals.”
Ensuring commitments in North-West Europe
After hearing barriers, obstacles and solutions being presented in the previous three panels, the fourth and last panel concluded the event by discussing how we can ensure that commitments to a cleaner future are met. Udo Schieverding, Deputy State Secretary, the Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Transport for the State of North Rhine Westphalia, understands that the exchange of best practices is key in cooperation: “The transport corridors in the Netherlands and Flanders are driving one of the most economic regions in Europe. They exemplify smart utilization of existing roads.”
Not just cross-border regions, but also other entities like the EU member states, the EU institutions and the Benelux Union are important in strengthening the cooperation in North-West Europa and delivering on the promises for the years to come, as Frans Weekers, secretary general of the Benelux Union, states.
To conclude, HNP president Van Dijk, also former president of the Dutch Association of Transport and Logistics (TLN), reiterates these sentiments and expresses a continuing commitment to work on a green and sustainable future in transport and mobility. “We have signed a lot of letters of intent, but we need political leadership with a vision. It is a mind shift, and you need to include everyone,” he says, which encompasses the relevant stakeholders in the EU and is an assignment to us all. Bollen agrees: “It requires political willingness to listen to what is needed. The outcomes of today will also be implemented in the ITEM Annual Conference on 17 November in The Hague”.