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Developing Baltic Transport Links and Energy Policies Effectively

Submitted by on 28 Mar 2013 – 15:11

By Vilja Savisaar-Toomast MEP, Member of the EP Committee on Transport and  Tourism

The Baltic Region, and more precisely the three Baltic States were hit quite hard by the financial crises, yet at the moment it seems that things are getting better, but there are still a long way to go to catch-up with the old Member States.

Estonia has suffered a lot during the last few years, but luckily we did not have an enormous public depth, which could have made it even worse. Still, we are far from the EU average in many aspects like living standards, or social equality. At the same time we have to put up with energy costs which are equivalent to the EU average or some cases even higher. This makes us to look for more efficiency and energy savings in all the different fields of life.
As a Member of the European Parliament, a member of the Committee on Transport and Tourism and a substitute member in Committee on Regional Development, I have a chance to contribute many important decisions that can influence the challenges described before. Energy saving and a more environmental friendly attitude to transport sector are the key aspect. This is linked to all the different modes of transport , whether sea, rail, road, or air.

One of the challenges is the connections between the different modes and multimodality. Here I would like to bring an example from the Baltic region, Rail Baltica, a future railway that will connect Helsinki-Tallinn-Riga-Kaunas-Warsaw. This is an extraordinary project for the Baltic States considering the size of investment and the possibilities for the passenger and cargo transport inside the Baltic States and to the rest of Europe.

At the moment Baltic States are still cut off from the rest of the EU in railway like an isolated island. Rail Baltica not only connects the Baltics to the EU, but at the same time, this also has a great effect on connecting different transport modes and enhancing sustainable and environmental friendly transport of goods and passengers.

Rail Baltica will make it possibly to connect the ports and airports to the railway and also it gives a possibility for multimodality. Every day at the moment, there are hundreds and thousands of trucks with cargo passing along the Via Baltica, a road from Tallinn to Warsaw and further. Those trucks could be put on a train to save an enormous amount of CO2 emissions and time the trucks spend on the road. This also helps to decrease the traffic on the Via Baltica and increase road safety.

The future of Rail Baltica goes hand-in-hand with the Connecting Europe Facility, a new program for increasing the connectivity in the transport, energy and telecommunication sectors. CEF is a great tool for creating a really functioning EU internal market. Considering Rail Baltica in the context of CEF, I can assure you that this has all the potential and possibilities to put the idea of CEF into life: It connects the Europe, it enhances the internal market and it increases energy efficient and environmental friendly transport.

I personally welcome the idea that one part of the CEF will come from the Cohesion Fund which will be distributed to the cohesion countries. I hope that the preparations for Rail Baltica will go well and fast so that the application for this support will be presented in a timely way.

Another issue that is also connected to the CEF and energy and transport, is the terminal for liquefied natural gas. As LNG is becoming more and more important in the field of energy, it is necessary to ensure that LNG will be available. As the EU will provide support to create the network of LNG terminals, there is a chance for Estonia to have one of those on the north shore. This subject relates very much to the coming change in lowering sulphur emissions in the Baltic Sea from the 1st of January 2015. That’s the reason why we need new cleaner fuels, which must be made available.

Regarding the new LNG terminal decision, there are couple of aspects, which are playing the main role, namely all-year-long accessibility (ice-free) of the terminal port and its hinterland connection. Both of those are in a good state in Estonia. Another thing that is an advantage is the closeness of Finland, which enables the terminal to be used with greater efficiency and synergy. As we already have experience connecting Estonian and Finnish energy sectors (Estlink 1 and 2) this will be a plus as well.

Another point is that there is a great deal of interest from the state and the private sector as well, which makes it easier to make progress on co-financing and developing the terminal. The official decision on a location of the terminal is going to be made after the results of the study, but the preliminary results show that the cheapest option would be the Tallinn Muuga Port. This also has all of the positive aspects described before – accessible all-year, near to Finland, easy to connect with the gas transmission network.

Those are the two most important subjects in the field of transport and energy for the Baltics and Estonia considering the EU internal market and cohesion. I sincerely hope that our governments will keep up the good work and realize these plans in coming years.