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Democrat January-February 1998 (Number 29)

Brian Denny makes clear who benefits and loses from the

Trans-European road Network System

Road building and the drive for Euro-Federalism have become the most contentious and controversial issues of the decade. It will come as no surprise to Democrat readers that the two developments are driven by the same logic, are fundamentally linked and their opponents face the same enemy - the transnational corporations (TNC's).

And, just as labour and trade union movements across the EU are campaigning against cuts in the welfare state and other austerity measures which are built into the Maastricht Treaty, environmental movements are developing campaigns against European Commission plans to lay nearly 5,000 miles of motorway over the next five years.

Big versus small

Environmentalists have long argued that road building has been carried out in the interests of big business and does little to develop local economies or create real jobs. European Union transport policies have done nothing to change such a view.


Anti-road protests are fast becoming a Europe-wide phenomenon as EU plans, known as the Trans-European transport Networks (TEN's), are being implemented.

These plans, enshrined within the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht), are designed to develop the European Community's transport system in the interests of the TNC's complete with plans to privatise Europe's railway services and introduce more toll roads.

European Round Table

The architects and driving force behind the networks is the very powerful road lobby made up of the oil and motor industries under an umbrella organisation called the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT). In fact, the ERT was one of the main lobbying groups to help the European Commission to prepare the 1992 Trans-European Road Networks on which the transport plans are based.

Founded in 1983, the ERT represents nearly 50 heads of industry from the largest transnational corporations in Europe including Fiat, Shell Oil, Nestle, ICI and Daimler Benz and has easy access to government leaders and EU politicians in order to promote its infrastructure plans.

As a result this organisation has already successively lobbied Brussels to create an internal market for goods within the EU and promote large-scale investments in transport infrastructure.

Internal Market

The Commission presents the networks as the physical backbone of the internal market, which forces companies to operate Europe-wide.

Such an arrangement, of course, favours large corporations with larger production units which can swallow up small, local competitors with ease. This combination of policies has the effect of reducing the number of production and distribution centres within the EU, while concentrating and consolidating wealth and power of the TNC's.

Channels for goods

The proposed huge network of motorways and other transport infrastructure would join these centres and act as distribution channels to the periphery. Therefore, regions are forced into dependence on uniform products from centralised production points with such goods being dispensed from chain store outlets and out-of-town shopping centres.

TENs currently represent over 200 projected labelled as being of "Community Interest" which receive funding from the EU. Yet the commission did not consult local or regional authorities, environmental or community groups, in fact, there was no public consultation whatsoever. As a result, the networks do not opt for rail and waterways or for environmentally friendly, integrated public transport systems, mainly because they are about implementing the needs of big business and the road lobby.

Costs of plans

Plans include 140 road schemes, 11 rail links, 57 combined transport projects, 26 inland waterway links and an estimated 50% increase in air travel. The estimated cost of this huge exercise is £ 270,000 million over the next 15 years. As more projects are added to the plans this cost is likely to rise.

But such a strategy destroys successful regional economies, local cultural diversity and jobs while favouring huge transnational corporations and consolidates the EU as a economic and political superstate. One vivid example which follows such a logic is EU agricultural policies, particularly the CAP, which encourages large-scale production and regional specialisation.


Over the decades, the EU has restructured the landscape of agricultural production and countries have experienced a dramatic loss of diversity in produce.

Spain, for instance, now specialises only in typical Mediterranean products, like wine and fruit, while traditional production of cereals and potatoes has virtually disappeared.

As these products are now imported into Spain, the growth in transport activity and the associated increase in costs and pollution become increasingly unavoidable.

EU traffic estimates reveal a 30 to 50 per cent increase in cross-border traffic as a direct result of TEN's by the year 2010, while the total growth in goods transported within the EU is set to grow by 90 per cent.

After succeeding in its drive for the internal market, the ERT used its considerable political weight to push its road-building plans.

EU road-building plans would consume large quantities of land. In Britain for instance, each mile of motorway requires two and a half acres of land. The completion of TENs would mean more than 500 square miles of land lost to the transport infrastructure across Europe.


The threat such plans present to local communities, wildlife and landscapes of outstanding beauty is also self-evident and are in direct conflict with EU sustainable development and environmental protection objectives.

Yet, in the face of such evidence, the EU transport commissioner Neil Kinnock has insisted that the policy will bring economic and social benefits.

"It will play an important part in easing the job crisis, be good for the environment and improve the quality of people's lives," he said.

However, there is very little evidence that continual road building has produced any of these desired effects.

In fact, it has resulted in rather the opposite, creating spiralling traffic congestion, increasing air pollution and other environmental damage.


A recent GREENPEACE report by John Whitelegg pointed out that Birmingham had all the motorways anyone could dream of and yet still suffered from high unemployment and economic stagnation.

Therefore, many transport and green campaigners, such as Alarm UK, Transport 2000 and Friends of the Earth are beginning to link up with Euro-realist groups across the continent to oppose the commission's plans.

Birmingham Toll Road

In Birmingham, Campaign Against Euro-Federalism members are actively involved in opposing the proposed Birmingham North Relief (toll) Road (BNRR) which is designed to make the M6 exclusive for juggernauts to transport goods. Environmental campaigners have also successfully blocked plans to lay a dual carriageway across the famous ancient water meadows that lay in front of Salisbury cathedral.

Activists from across Europe are increasingly looking to Britain to learn from the successes of the British anti-roads protest movement.

Eastern Europe

The ex-socialist countries in eastern and central Europe are also at risk from EU transport strategies. Previously, countries like Hungary and Czechoslovakia could base their transport policy on low-cost strategies, with energy efficiency a priority, as an integrated part of a planned economy.

It was logical to move huge amounts of material and people the cheapest way. Therefore the railway system and the public transport sector had the main share of the industry.

They also did not face the chaos of big business promoting ever-increasing consumption or the rampant individualism associated with pure monetarism and the unbridled market economy.


Today, transnational corporations are keen to exploit these new central and east European markets since the expansion of, mostly German, capital into the region.

As a part of the EU expansion process eastwards the Commission is imposing a large number of east-west road transport network projects to replace cheap, efficient public-sector transport and railway usage.

Ultimately, the main beneficiary of such centralisation represented by the transport networks is the monopoly capital that the European Union was created to serve.

The creation of centralised production centres and the increased need for transport exposes the reality behind the glossy EU rhetoric that protection of local economies, the environment, lowering pollution and easing traffic congestion are impossible under policies such as TEN's.

These plans will, in fact, increase traffic and pollution at a time when world leaders are admitting that action must be taken to limit and lower greenhouse gas emissions. If there was ever an example of how the EU undermines national democratic control of the economy and in whose interests it serves look no further than its transport policy.

Competition rules

The present process of structural adjustment being carried out from Brussels is being done in the name of "international competitiveness". However, this process is simply allowing the TNC's to operate with impunity and only brings with it the spectre of mass unemployment, declining social services and despair.

The alternative is to bring the power of the TNC's under democratic control in order to protect and develop local and national economies to build not only relevant transport needs but to create sustainable jobs and developing stable communities for people to live in.