Newsletter 29/2013 - Our South East Europe

Finding ways for faster, cheaper and safer ‘transporting’ to EU

While highly developed countries are adjusting their transport services and infrastructure to fast-changing needs of their citizens and economy of the 21st century, South East European (SEE) countries are lagging behind in an attempt to bridge the gap between advanced requirements of modern times on one side and outdated infrastructure and modest resources on the other. All these ‘roads’ lead to the European Union (EU), a demanding host for these hopeful, prospective ‘travellers’ but also a big supporter during the ‘travelling’ process.   

Florian Achleitner, International Transport Affairs Officer at Directorate General for Mobility and Transport of European Commission, thinks that the Western Balkans countries are facing a particular situation today, being situated in the region that had one common transport system for most of its countries in the past.

“Their transport infrastructure network lacks interoperability and poor regional planning hampers cross border transport and the elimination of bottlenecks. On their way towards further integration into the EU's transport market these countries need to overcome such problems.”

The European Commission has in many ways expressed its interest in the development of a closer transport cooperation with the SEE countries, explains Achleitner.

“The European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) Agreement aims at establishing a single market in aviation services, while the South East European Transport Observatory (SEETO) focuses on infrastructure and land transport.”

Furthermore, the Commission has also offered expert advice on transport matters in workshops and conferences with the aim to align the countries' transport legislative framework with the one of the EU.

“This will ultimately result in a truly harmonised transport market, and strongly contribute to the fulfilment of the requirements for EU membership. Despite some drawbacks, especially in the more sustainable modes of transport like railways, the overall development in the transport sector is promising.”

In the region of SEE where investments requirements are high, but available funds scarce, it is understood that physical investments must be accompanied with policy reforms and must be fully maximized by coordination on a regional level, stresses Mate Gjorgjievski, Transport Law Expert at SEETO.

“It is well known that for example, no new motorway can optimize the benefits for the society, if no measures for border-crossing facilitation, better maintenance and road safety are taken into due account.” 

Gjorgjievski explains that SEETO provides such platform for coordination of priority projects as well as priority policy measures among the national transport authorities, European Commission, international financial institutions and regional organisations.

In general terms, contemporary transport policy boils down to satisfying the transport needs of citizens and economy/business community with the minimal use of energy and time and with maximum security, points out Esref Gacanin from the Association of Consulting Engineers (ITA BH), Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to him, the railways have no alternative to transporting passengers and goods, when terrestrial transport is concerned.

“All SEE countries follow the European transport policy that puts revitalisation of railways at the forefront but without active participation of these countries there will be  no adequate development of railways in the region.”

Gacanin further adds that the programme created by SEETO on development of railway infrastructure represents a basis for individual national plans even though it has to be constantly revised given the constant changes of economic circumstances. 

“All Pan-European transport corridors in SEE are also European railway corridors. In majority of SEE countries the revitalisation of railway infrastructure is ongoing as well as adjustments of railway organisation to the EU Directives. These activities are visible in the whole region.”  

The works on upgrading railways in SEE are ongoing through the use of EU support for reconstruction and development of railway infrastructure, Gacanin reminds.

“Croatia is reconstructing all its backbone railways, Bosnia and Herzegovina is repairing network of electrified railways, Montenegro is working on revitalization of the entire railway network. The same happens in Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo*.”

Gacanin highlights that equally important to reconstruction and repair are activities related to integration of the existing railway infrastructure into European multimodal network, adding that all these activities should be accelerated in order for SEE region to reach development level of the EU from the year 2000.

However, harmonisation of planning i.e. long-term development and harmonisation of specific projects on multilateral and bilateral levels is missing, according to Gacanin.

By promoting efficient transport planning on the regional transport network, the common goal for the SEE region is to level up the standards to the TEN-T Network and to integrate the regional network in the wider Trans-European Transport Network, to which it naturally belongs, claims Gjorgjievski.

“To enable this, crucial actions are foreseen on the ground: Regional Transport Study led by the World Bank, which should identify the physical and non-physical barriers and the core axes in the region; ongoing activities related to railway reforms, border-crossing facilitation, road safety and flagship axes initiative; and active participation in SEE2020 through which wider political support would be ensured.”  

According to Achleitner, the European Commission is confident that, after years of political blockages, the region is ready to sign a Treaty establishing the Transport Community with the South East European countries.

“This would allow for even closer integration of the Western Balkans into the transport market of the EU. It would be a major step forward!”

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.



Common goal for the SEE region is to level up the standards to the TEN-T Network and to integrate the regional network in the wider Trans-European Transport Network (Photo:

Common goal for the SEE region is to level up the standards to the TEN-T Network and to integrate the regional network in the wider Trans-European Transport Network (Photo: