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The maps of the TEN-T network in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have been presented. The European core transport network has for the first time been extended towards these eastern countries, in order to better connect the continent to Asia.
“The EU’s Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) are being extended to countries bordering Asia. The EU should now connect the TEN-T with networks in Asia”, the European Commission (EC) said in September. It had then just adopted a Joint Communication with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, setting out the EU’s vision for a new and comprehensive strategy to better connect Europe and Asia. The TEN-T core transport network is prioritised in terms of funding and upgrade works, and is revised every ten years, the next revision taking place in 2023.
The Middle Corridor
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia are situated between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, therefore geographically located to form a transit region on the Middle Corridor, a multimodal route between Europe and Asia. Cargo enters or exits the EU via the Black Sea or Turkey, and crosses the Caspian Sea headed for Kazakhstan, where it continues by rail to China.
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In Azerbaijan, three railway lines have been defined, connecting its neighbouring countries to the Caspian Sea. The Port of Baku is to become an important gateway on the landlocked sea, but a second, undefined port is also included on the map. Where Azerbaijan connects to the Caspian Sea, Georgia forms an important gateway with major ports on the east of the Black Sea. Three ports are included in the core network, served by a main railway line with several sub-branches.
Armenia has until now not gained much importance on the Middle Corridor, due to ongoing disagreements with neighbouring countries Turkey and Azerbaijan. It has however been included in the TEN-T network, with a planned new railway line connecting it to Iran in the south. Its main railway line is also included, providing access to Turkey in the west and Azerbaijan in the north.
New Silk Road
Whereas the Middle Corridor is rapidly gaining popularity, traffic via the northern route, through Belarus is in full swing. The CIS country directly borders Poland and the border crossing of Brest-Malaszewicze is the most popular on the New Silk Road. It is therefore not surprising that the railway network of Belarus has been added to the core network of Europe. Three mainlines and several sub-branches have been included, connecting the country to all neighbouring countries, including Latvia and Lithuania.
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Although not as popular as Belarus, Ukraine is gaining importance as a transit country between east and west. An extensive network of railway lines has been included in the TEN-T network, with connections to all its neighbouring countries; Belarus, Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldavia. The railway network also connects to five maritime ports on the Black Sea, therefore making in a suitable transit country on the Middle Corridor as well.
Moldova is relatively small in size and landlocked, but does have an important inland port on the Donau. On the TEN-T map, it is especially the west-east railway line connecting it to neighbouring Romania and Ukraine that serves the core network.
The EU strategy has been considered a response to the Chinese Belt and Road initiative (BRI). China has invested heavily in projects in the six countries mentioned above, with the same aim of improving connectivity between Europe and Asia. However, the EU is wary of the ambitions of China, as it does not abide with European standards such as transparency and equal market opportunities. Chinese companies funded by the Chinese government win most of the contracts and thus gain economic influence in the region.
In response, the EU commented: “The European Union and China share an interest in making sure that our respective initiatives work well together, despite the differences in approach and implementation. Connectivity is not possible if systems and networks are not interoperable. As we have already been doing, the European Union will continue to engage with China – in our bilateral Connectivity Platform, in the wider bilateral relationship, and in multilateral fora – to create synergies and to find commonalities. As the Joint Communication highlights, the EU will further step up its work within international organisations to set and enforce global rules and standards, which will create a level playing field and equal opportunities for all.
Although the inclusion of the region in the European core network could complement the efforts of China, it seems much more a response to the growing influence of Russia on the trade route between the continents. Russia bans imports of several EU products such as French cheese, Dutch veal, beef, pork and other foodstuff. Through the traditional northern routes it is difficult to bypass the large country, limiting the trading options.
Through the Middle Corridor, trade between Europe and China is not limited to these sanctions. With the exception of Belarus, all countries included allow for the passage of cargo through the Middle Corridor, bypassing Russia. Although Iran is currently facing restrictions in the form of sanctions imposed by the US, the route via the Caspian Sea is expected to gain popularity in the near future, especially since the opening of the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars (BTK) railway in October last year.
The European Commission has proposed to increase the European Union’s external action budget to 123 billion Euros for the period 2021-2027. This represents an increase of 30 per cent compared to the previous period. Included in this proposal is an investment framework for external action, with an increased fire-power of up to 60 billion Euros, it explained.
“If agreed by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, this increased funding would make a significant contribution to the European Union’s commitment to enhancing connectivity between Europe and Asia”, it stated. “
This article first appeared on www.railfreight.com
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