By Brian Engelsma
After the big bang enlargement of the aughts and the financial crisis many have questioned what the future of the European Union is. Have the new dynamics of the 1980′s and 1990′s given way to a new round of Eurosclerosis, brought on by enlargement fatigue and the boneheaded fiscal policies of the PIIGS? It appears so. How, then, is the European Union to recapture its mojo and continue the drive towards European Integration?
One of the declared principles of the Treaty of Rome is the creation of an ever closer union of European states. Today, over 50 years removed from the signing of that document, tremendous work remains in the creation of an ever closer European Union and European public. As we turn over into a new decade it becomes increasingly clear how the European Union can foster a closer, more unified continent and more integrated border regions between countries; with an emphasis on improving transportation infrastructure across the continent and investing in the next generation of transportation technology.
The European Union should push forward with vigorous support for projects such as the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link, which would link the Danish island of Zealand to Northern Germany, significantly cutting down the time it takes to travel between Scandinavia and the industrial centers of Europe. Such a link would help promote the free movement of people and goods, cutting down the time and cost necessary to travel between Scandinavia and Continental Europe. Not only would this promote an ever closer union by encouraging greater travel between Northern and Central Europe, and thus greater cross-cultural exchange and access, but would also provide a boon to the European economy by helping cut down shipping costs between the regions, lowering transit prices and promoting the free exchange of goods and labor.
This project highlights the potential returns that investing in a 21st century transportation network could have on European society, but many other steps can and should be taken to improve movement throughout the continent. The move towards a unified air control system, where the European Union manages all air traffic over the continent rather than each state managing their own airspace, similarly deserves vigorous support. With thousands of flights everyday, the possibility of congested airways causing costly delays is very real. The implementation of a unified air control system would alleviate this problem by allowing for better management and coordination of the skies over Europe, as no longer will 27 different national air agencies have to try to negotiate and coordinate European airspace, it will all be handled by one, singular agency. Such a step would help prevent congested air traffic, insuring that European skies will be able to handle increased use, and promoting movement around the continent.
The potential benefits that a modern transportation network would provide Europe are simply too great to ignore. For instance, sustained investment into improving and expanding European rail capacities would reduce shipping costs around the continent, promoting economic growth and a more integrated European economy. Meanwhile, continued support for high speed rail projects, and other infrastructure improvements which would allow for a greater number of people to travel throughout the continent, encouraging the development of a European identity by promoting access to the various societies of the continent, creating more of a melting pot of cultures in Europe. The borders between countries would continue to melt away as movement between them continues to ease.
If the European Union remains committed to creating a more integrated Europe, then it must demonstrate sustained support for transportation projects which will help integrate the European economy, promote the movement of people throughout the continent, develop cross-border regions around the continent. Through additional support for these projects the goal of an ever closer union can be better achieved in the 21st century, and the European project will receive a much needed shot in the arm.