OPINION OF THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE on the proposal for a Council Regulation (EC) laying down general rules for the granting of Community financial aid in the field of trans-European networks
OJ C 195, 18.7.1994, p. 74–76 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT)
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Opinion on the proposal for a Council Regulation (EC) laying down general rules for the granting of Community financial aid in the field of trans-European networks (1) (94/C 195/22)
On 28 March 1994 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 129 D. 3 of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, on the abovementioned proposal.
The Committee appointed Mr Vasco Cal to be Rapporteur-General and prepare the Committee's work on this subject (Articles 18 and 46 of the Rules of Procedure).
At its 315th Plenary Session (meeting of 28 April 1994), the Economic and Social Committee unanimously adopted the following Opinion.
1.1. Title XII of the Treaty defines the Community's tasks and instruments for establishing and developing trans-European networks in transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructures.
Article 129 C of the Treaty stipulates inter alia that the Community shall 'establish a series of guidelines and identify projects of common interest; ensure inter-operability of the networks; and support the financial efforts made by the Member States, particularly through feasibility studies, loan guarantees and interest-rate subsidies'.
1.2. The draft Council Regulation supplements the types of aid already decided on; their financial impact on the establishment of networks may be considerably greater: the aid involved is channelled through the ERDF and the Cohesion Funds.
Nevertheless the Commission proposal is important because it can make a decisive contribution to getting projects off the ground and creating the right conditions for financing projects.
1.3. The budgetary resources for the proposed actions come under the respective budget lines for the 1994-1999 financial perspective and total approximately MECU 400 per annum (MECU 2,395 at 1993 constant prices for the period 1994-1999).
2. General comments
2.1. In October 1991 the Economic and Social Committee adopted an Opinion (2) endorsing the global approach to trans-European networks. At that time the ESC considered (c.f. point 2.5.2) that 'as part of the review of the post-1992 financial perspective, the Community should ensure that it has the financial means necessary to provide significant momentum to the establishment and development of trans-European networks. It is vital that adequate funding be made available at EC level, and that close links are established with the European Investment Bank and private finance institutions. The establishment of a fund specifically for trans-European networks is therefore of crucial importance for implementing projects warranting Community support'.
In the same Opinion (point 2.5) the ESC recognized that 'the sums involved in the overall funding of trans-European networks are so large that the Community's contribution will always be subsidiary; it will, however, have an important role to play as catalyst and its contribution will be relatively higher in those Member States with fewer budgetary resources'.
2.2. Since then, the importance of trans-European networks has continued to grow: a new title has been introduced into the Treaty; a specific budgetary line for Community action in this area has been incorporated into the financial perspectives; several European Council meetings have called for swifter implementation of the trans-European networks (TENs); the White Paper on growth, competitiveness and employment has given a new impetus for implementation of the TENs; the Commission has already submitted all the proposals for guidelines in the areas of transport and energy and is preparing the remaining proposals on telecommunications; the Council has already approved a part of these guidelines and various projects are currently being implemented.
At the European Council in Corfu in June next, the entire range of political decisions on Community priorities, including information on motorways, will be taken, thus paving the way for completion of these networks.
2.3. The Commission proposal is a horizontal one covering all three sectors, even though a distinction is made in the selection criteria for projects in the different sectors. This will allow a single legal instrument to be used and will speed up preparatory work for implementing the networks; problems may however arise in the final distribution of Community financial aid.
The financial statement appended to the proposal does in fact include indicative amounts for each of the sectors for the 1994-1999 period; these amounts will have to be up-dated on the basis of the new financial perspectives. In any case the financial aid granted under the present proposal must supplement assistance under the Structural Funds and must not be seen as an alternative means of financing.
2.4. The types of financial aid provided for (feasibility studies including preparatory studies and other technical support measures, contributions to premiums for loan guarantees, interest rate subsidies and, exceptionally, co-financing of investment projects) are implemented at various stages in the projects and require varying levels of financial contribution which, in any case, are modest in relation to overall needs (MECU 400,000).
The choice of type and amount of aid in each of the sectors should also take into account the specific contribution that they can make to the financial engineering needed to complete the project.
3. Specific comments
3.1. The Committee considers it necessary for all guidelines on trans-European data communications networks between administrations (IDA) (1), which are dealt with in a separate proposal, to be approved as soon as possible.
3.2. The Committee endorses the move to extend the concept of public body to firms whose activities meet a public service requirement.
3.3. On the other hand, in cases where guidelines have not yet been adopted by the Council, projects corresponding to the Treaty objectives should be eligible for funding even if they do not fall within the scope of the Commission proposal.
In any case, steps should be taken to lay down procedures which allow priorities to be up-dated in line with developments in the situation and new requirements. The Committee feels that studies carried out prior to up-dating these priorities should be eligible for funding under the proposal.
3.4. The concept of a 'project' as set out in Article 2(4) should be clarified. Does the term 'project' cover: 1) a coherent whole designed to fulfil an economic and technical function; or 2) a part of this whole which may be technically and/or financially independent ?
The concept of a 'project' could apply equally well to a phase in completing actions to be financed; however, this does not seem to come within the scope of the present proposal.
3.5. In principle it is up to the Member States to undertake preparatory studies and feasibility studies. If the Commission should deem it necessary, it can nevertheless decide to take the initiative and provide up to 100 % funding. In this event, Commission activity should be coordinated with studies carried out by Member States.
Prior studies are vital for determining the feasibility of an action and can be more difficult to finance; the Commission should therefore pay more particular attention to this area.
3.6. As regards the common criteria for selecting projects, more details should be provided of the relative importance of the common criteria and the specific criteria, and likewise, within the common criteria of the relative importance of criteria for 1) the establishment and development of networks, 2) implementation of Community policies and 3) the economic and financial aspects of the project concerned.
As stressed by the Committee in 1991 (2), the relative importance of the criteria should be established 'taking account of a project's contribution to the coherence and completeness of the whole network, its respect for the environment and for user safety, its long-term prospects and contribution to the completion of the internal market, and considering the overall structural impact of the networks on the sectors involved and on the balanced development of the less-advantaged regions'.
3.7. As regards the specific criteria it would be worthwhile a) to indicate clearly that the projects must be consistent with the pointers adopted under the respective sets of guidelines and b) not to rule out support for necessary and priority, internal inter-connection projects in each network.
3.8. The Committee has always advocated the involvement of economic and social partners in the dialogue between the Commission, the Member State and the competent authorities or bodies (1). For this reason public and private economic operators involved in completing the projects submitted should be able to contribute to the assessment and identification of applications (Article 12). On the other hand, it is difficult to see what their role might be in implementing projects.
3.9. A deadline should be set for Commission decisions on granting financial aid, as in the Structural Fund and Cohesion Fund regulations.
3.10. The Committee endorses the Commission proposal regarding an initial advance payment and the final payment. Subsequent payments should be made in good time - a two month deadline as provided for in the Structural Funds could be envisaged - taking into consideration not only the stage reached in implementing the project, but also of the initial or revised financing plan for the action concerned.
3.11. Lastly, the Committee reaffirms the value and importance it attaches to the completion of trans-European networks and will certainly make its contribution to discussion on the activities report, which is to be forwarded to the Committee in accordance with Article 18 of the proposal.
Done at Brussels, 28 April 1994.
of the Economic and Social Committee
(1) OJ No C 89, 26. 3. 1994, p. 8.
(2) OJ No C 14, 20. 1. 1992.
(3) OJ No C 249, 13. 9. 1993.
(4) OJ No C 14, 20. 1. 1992, p. 4.
(5) OJ No C 201, 26. 7. 1993 and OJ No C 133, 16. 5. 1994,p. 42.