SP: European action plan for inland water transport needed

27 October 2006

SP: European action plan for inland water transport needed

The SP is a supporter of increased water transport as an alternative to ever more motorways, but a headlong increase in capacity is not what is needed. SP Euro-MP and United Left Group (GUE/NGL) transport spokesman Erik Meijer put the case at the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg for a European action plan which would take full account of environmental and safety considerations.

Erik Meijer“For many years old canals were neglected or closed down,” said Mr Meijer. “Inland water transport seemed old-fashioned and the greatest growth in freight traffic took place on the roads. Now, on the other hand, every political tendency applauds the fact that the transport of goods by water is back in fashion. This consensus, however, hides a variety of different political visions.”

For the SP, water transport presents a cheap, space-saving, environmentally-friendly alternative to ever more and ever bigger motorways. “But some people want more of everything,” Meijer continued, “including further increases in motorways. By deliberately creating overcapacity, they are seeking to bring about a situation in which enterprises can pick and choose which particular means of transport suits them best at any given time.”

An example of such overcapacity is that, despite the existence of good, navigable rivers such as the Waal and the Lek, the Betuwe Line, an expensive TENs project to promote rail freight transport, is being constructed on the lower reaches of the Rhine. Given greater importance than such almost certainly doomed-to-be-underused projects should be the broadening of the narrow canals which connect northern France to Belgium and the Netherlands, and the revival of traffic on the Danube between Hungary and the Black Sea, which has suffered badly since the bombings of 1999.

“Even in the case of water transport, overcapacity comes at a cost to space, nature and the environment,” said Meijer. “Adaptation of rivers has consequences for meadowland, biodiversity, drinking water supply and the flooding of surrounding low-lying lands. Water transport, moreover, does not remove all the risks associated with polluting and dangerous substances. The transport of such goods holds dangers not only for the river itself, but also for downstream residential areas and nature.”

More is needed than simply cleaner engines and low-sulphur fuels. “Together with the Greens/EFA group we are proposing infrastructure taxes designed to encourage fairer competition between the various forms of transport, improved assessment of European development plans, tightening up of the legislation governing transport of dangerous substances and resistance to the practice of registering inland waterway vessels at ports of convenience, which has negative consequences for social, safety and environmental standards,” Meijer concluded. “Only if water transport conforms to such demands will its growth represent a step forward.”

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