ECONOMY

EU to help Greece expand its railway network by 2014

The European Commission yesterday unveiled plans to provide considerable financing for European transport networks, placing the emphasis on railways. The plan, which will cost about 600 billion euros, will also help Greece expand its railway network considerably. Building the Trans-European networks is at least a 10-year-old idea that had, so far, lain dormant for lack of financing. It seems, however, that the project – to link all Europe with fast road and railway networks – has been adopted by the Commission as a sort of «New Deal» for the early 21st century. To the road and rail networks, the Commission has added building fast communications networks as a priority. The Commission has added two railway axes for the Greek network, which would represent the first significant expansion since the late 19th century: the Kozani-Igoumenitsa link, which would finally achieve a linkage between the northeast and the northwest, and a link between Kalamata, in the southwest, and Ioannina, in the northwest, passing through the Rio-Antirio bridge. These two projects are expected to be completed in 2014 and 2012, respectively. The Commission will also earmark more money for the completion of the Egnatia Highway, along Greece’s northern border, along with a connecting highway to Sofia and Bucharest. Bulgaria and Romania are expected to join the EU in 2007, but these highways will be ready by 2006. There will also be funds for the completion of the reconstruction of the Patras-Athens-Thessaloniki-Evzonoi road, which will be ready in 2008. All the above projects will be co-financed with state and private funds. The European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU’s long-term lending institution, has expressed interest in providing a 50-billion-euro loan. Another EU initiative on transport, the liberalization of port services, was greeted with distinctly less enthusiasm yesterday when it was announced that the governments of the 15 EU members and the European Parliament had reached a compromise and that the Commission directive on the liberalization of both goods handling and navigation will be implemented in October. Even though the compromise mandates that for the handling of goods shipping companies can only use either existing dockworkers or – with some restrictions – their own crews, dockers’ unions throughout Europe reacted angrily to the proposed changes.