As one of the European Parliament's rapporteurs on the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), I would like to bring your readers' attention to four points that should be borne in mind in the debate about the budget for the European Union's infrastructure priorities.
Firstly, the debate about the multiannual financial framework is heading in the wrong direction. In October 2011, the Commission proposed a budget for the CEF of €50 billion. At their summit in December, EU leaders cut this figure back to €41.2bn – despite the obvious growth stimulus that the facility would provide.
Secondly, it is important to realise that whatever the final budget, it will be only a drop in the ocean compared to the amounts needed to deliver on the EU's ambitions. The CEF must therefore be seen as money in addition to cohesion funding, not as an alternative.
Thirdly, every euro invested at EU level must have a maximum multiplier effect, while avoid distorting competition. Because there is little readily available capital for large-scale infrastructure investment, greater use must be made of innovative financing instruments instead of traditional grants, in order to leverage and attract long-term backing from the private sector.
Fourthly, the budget for energy projects deserves particular protection. The largest slice of the CEF is destined for cross-border transport (TEN-T) projects – €31.6bn under the original Commission proposals, compared with €9.1bn for energy infrastructure (and €9.2bn for telecommunications infrastructure). The focus on the transport dimension overlooks the crucial importance of an integrated and efficient energy network. We need an energy network that ensures security of supply, integrates renewable energy, and enables electricity and gas to flow efficiently throughout Europe and to reach consumers at the best price possible. Without energy, our industries and workforce simply cannot operate.
An investment gap of over €200bn is one of the two major obstacles to achieving the EU 2020 goals for the energy sector (the other is delayed completion of the internal market). Member states should not be thinking whether they can afford to build these networks but, rather, whether they can afford not to build them.