Sun, May 22, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Mediterranean eyes future as trade hub between Europe and Far East

Most goods imported to the EU by sea enter via northern European ports, yet ports like Barcelona and Marseille would almost always be cheaper, greener and closer destinations

By Javier Solana and Angel Saz

To achieve this rebalancing, southern European ports need improved support infrastructure, specifically rail links connecting them to the main European rail network. The Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) policy, which the EU is currently revising, is fundamental in this respect because it is the master plan that will guide the development of basic European infrastructure.

Although this infrastructure is financed mainly by individual EU member states using their own funds, the TEN-T is binding and marks out the priority projects for each member. Thus, it is absolutely essential for TEN-T to reflect the importance of rail connections for the southern European ports.

In order to ensure this, policymakers must give priority to efficiency criterion and bear in mind the environmental costs of both land and sea transport. If Europe and its companies are to remain competitive and attain the strategic objective of “Europe 2020” — a Europe that uses its resources efficiently — the Mediterranean rail transport infrastructure is vital.

Obviously, there is another, geopolitical condition that must be met to achieve this rebalancing: the Suez Canal must continue to be a safe and reliable shipping route. Any threat to the canal’s normal operations would shift the Far East-Europe route to the southern tip of Africa, marginalizing the Mediterranean (and sending costs soaring).

The Mediterranean played a crucial role in the first Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, was the sea of the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, and was the center of the world first for the Arabs and Barbarians, and later for the Ottomans and the Spanish. Today, having faded as a result of advances that opened up the Americas and the East to European trade, the Mediterranean has a great opportunity to recover its lost prestige.

Javier Solana, formerly the EU’s high representative for foreign and security policy and a former secretary-general of NATO, is president of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics (ESADEgeo). Angel Saz is Coordinator of ESADEgeo.


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