Policy Context

European Union policy-making involves the production of a large and complex variety of document types. Specific terms used may not always be comprehensible to non-specialists, so a quick introduction is provided here. Topic-based, broad, and long-term strategies are often published in the form of White Papers. White Papers sometimes follow a Green Paper released to launch a public consultation process. A Green Paper usually presents a range of ideas and is meant to stimulate debate. Strategies are then followed by Action Plans, by ‘normal’ Communications, and, sometime, by Directives or Regulations – which unlike the former are of a legislative nature. The entire process varies considerably, and therefore steps of this chain might be absent in certain policy areas.

Another way of looking at the plethora of EU policy-making documents is to classify them according to their role. From this perspective, we can look at the instruments the EU has put in place to implement its strategies. Instruments are usually associated with financing but, by way of example, they could also be initiatives aimed at increasing the cooperation with and among local authorities (such as the Covenant of the Mayors), or at facilitating the access to information (such as the ELTIS portal).. A short overview of international policies can be found as an Annexe 5 – International Policy Context.


The goal of framing a common transport policy dates back to as early as 1957, when the European Economic Community was created. But it was only with the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht (the Treaty on the European Union), that the European Commission (EC) was granted enough powers for the task. That year witnessed the presentation of the first White Paper on the future development of a common transport policy. Its main goal was to establish an internal market in the transport sector among Member States.

White Paper ‘European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide’ (2001)

A second White Paper was published in 2001 containing explicit references to urban mobility and to cities as fundamental loci of EU policies. The paper, entitled ‘European Transport Policy for 2010: Time To Decide’, set medium-term objectives and proposed around sixty measures to ‘develop a transport system capable of shifting the balance between modes of transport, revitalising the railways, promoting transport by sea and inland waterways and controlling the growth in air transport’. It highlighted demand-oriented measures and formally introduced the concept of intermodality as a way to meet the increased demand for transport while keeping the infrastructural needs to a minimum.

Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment (2006)

Another strategy was published in 2006: the Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment. The document addressed a number of environmental challenges in cities. In the field of transport, the main action was to provide guidance on integrated environmental management and on sustainable urban transport plans. Although EU action is limited as far as urban areas are concerned, because of the principle of subsidiarity, there is a need for cooperation and coordination among local authorities.

EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (2010)

The EC adopted the new EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020 in 2010. The strategy supports the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the EU and is accompanied by a list of actions grouped into eight areas. Among the implemented actions was the launch of an annual award called Access City, which has sought to showcase and reward cities taking exemplary steps to improve accessibility in the urban environment.

Europe 2020 (2010)

Proposed by the EC in 2010, Europe 2020 is a 10-year strategy aiming at ‘smart, sustainable, inclusive growth’ and follows the Lisbon Strategy for the period 2000-2010. The underlying vision is that of an economy delivering high levels of employment, productivity, and social cohesion. The strategy has defined several targets, some of which deal with climate change and energy: (a) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, as compared to 1990; (b) to increase the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption by 20%; and (c) to achieve a 20% increase in energy efficiency.

White Paper ‘Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system’ (2011)

New concerns such as increasing energy prices, the enlargement of the EU, and climate change – identified by the EC’s paper ‘Keep Europe Moving: Sustainable Mobility for Our Continent’ (a mid-term review of the 2001 White Paper) – called for a revised transport strategy. ‘Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system‘, the White Paper currently in force, was published in March 2011 and advocates a number of highly ambitious goals. The most prominent is a reduction of at least 60% in CO2 emissions from transport by 2050; other goals include: (a) for intercity travel, a 50% shift for all medium-distance passenger and goods transport off the roads and onto rail and waterborne transport; (b) for urban transport, a 50% shift away from conventionally fuelled cars by 2030, phasing them out in cities by 2050. The paper also became known for the often cited quote ‘curbing mobility is not an option’. The EC attempted to create a ‘win-win’ situation, as if increased mobility demand, ultimately leading to more pollution, would not harm the capacity to meet the other overarching goals of the White Paper. This shows how difficult it can be to make clear choices between contradictory policy goals, at least to a certain extent. Although demand-side measures are featured in the paper, such as land-use planning and behavioural measures, it is also true that there is greater emphasis placed on infrastructural and technological measures.

Action Plans and discussion papers

Green Paper ‘Towards a New Culture for Urban Mobility’ (2007)

The Green Paper on Urban Mobility set the foundations for an EU agenda for sustainable urban mobility. It directly targeted local authorities, thus recognising their unique role in promoting sustainable urban mobility patterns. As a discussion paper, the initial goal was to stimulate debate. Different policy options were put forward: promoting the exchange of Good Practices at all levels (local, region, or national), underpinning the establishment of standards, encouraging applied research and technology, simplifying legislation, and facilitating access to funding. The ultimate goal would be the adoption by society of a new culture based on the principles of sustainable urban mobility.

Action Plan on Urban Mobility (2009)

The results of the consultation process that followed the Green Paper mentioned above would be later incorporated into the EC’s ‘Action Plan on Urban Mobility‘. Published in 2009, the plan proposed twenty actions to be launched between 2009 and 2012 supporting local, regional, and national authorities in achieving sustainable urban mobility goals. The measures were grouped into six main themes: (a) promoting integrated policies; (b) focusing on citizens; (c) greening urban transport; (d) strengthening funding; (e) sharing Good Practices; and (f) optimising urban mobility. Ensuring a more rapid implementation of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP) was again featured as one of the main specific action points.

Strategic Transport Technology Plan

More recently, in preparation of the upcoming Strategic Transport Technology Plan, the EC published a Communication entitled ‘Research and Innovation for Europe's Future Mobility’. The paper summarises the achievements of the European transport sector in research and innovation, outlines challenges to be overcome and presents potential actions in view of achieving modernised and sustainable transport systems. Also, as part of a technology strategy, which is a clear priority for the EU, the EC presented, at the beginning of the year, the Clean Power for Transport Package, which includes the Communication entitled ‘Clean Power for Transport: a European Alternative Fuels Strategy’ and a proposal for a Directive on the deployment of alternative fuel infrastructures. The Directive aims to facilitate the market uptake of cleaner fuels through the large-scale deployment of alternative fuel infrastructures.

The next step will be the development of a Sustainable Transport Technology Plan.

Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) and Connecting Europe Facility

The Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) forms the main infrastructure networks in transport, energy, and telecommunications in the EU as a whole. Although strongly criticised for the disparate criteria for inclusion or exclusion of projects in the network, the need for an EU-wide communication network is urgently needed. For this reason, the proposal for the new financial framework allocates a budget of €31.6 billion for transport infrastructure investment over the 2014-2020 period to be committed mainly via the newly established Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

Railway Sector Reform

Railways have traditionally been protected as public monopolies. Even though most transport services fall outside the Bolkestein Directive on services in the internal market, the EU has been pushing very hard for increased competition in long-distance services. Some countries – notably the United Kingdom – have privatised their railway companies and separated infrastructure management from service provisions (‘unbundling’). The 4th Railway Package proposal, published in the beginning of 2013, is a comprehensive set of Directives and Regulations which takes railway reform considerably further. While its positive aspects are undeniable – with regard to, for example, interoperability between EU systems –, stakeholders criticise the prescriptive nature of the business model advocated by the EC, which would not ‘fit’ the diverse situations across the EU and could even hamper the competitiveness and efficiency of currently well-performing systems. The European Economic and Social Committee will adopt an opinion about the 4th Railway Package before mid-July 2013.


Regulatory Instruments

The environmental and health related considerations surrounding transport have prompted the approval of several regulations  designed to establish limits to air pollutant concentrations (such as CO, HC, NOX, and PM) and to traffic noise, and to stipulate fuel and vehicle efficiency standards.


Seventh Framework Programme and Horizon 2020

The EC funds research activities mainly through the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), under which €4.1 billion was allocated to the transport sector during the period 2007-2013. Horizon 2020 will succeed FP7 as the EC’s proposal to ‘generate ideas, growth and jobs through the world’s largest collaborative programme for research and innovation’ (2014-2020). In the transport sector, the EC will strive for a balanced approach which invests both in technology and in relevant socio-economic research. The four main priorities for transport research under Horizon 2020 are: (a) making transport more sustainable: resource-efficient and environmentally friendly transport; (b) making transport and transport systems seamless: better mobility, less congestion, greater safety and security; (c) keeping transport competitive: the European transport industry as a global leader; and (d) making transport research responsive: socio-economic research and forward-looking activities for policy-making. The work carried out under the Strategic Transport Technology Plan will help to focus related research activities in Horizon 2020.


CIVITAS (Cleaner and Better Transport in Cities) was launched in 2002 and aims at achieving sustainable, clean, and energy-efficient urban transport systems by employing a range of technological and policy measures. Since its inception, CIVITAS has managed to leverage an investment of over €360 million, €180 million of which in EU subsidies. The concept was rapidly taken up by cities. CIVITAS has already supported more than 650 technical and policy-based measures in 58 cities throughout the EU and is currently acknowledged as one of the most prominent programmes in this domain. CIVITAS is also known for its innovative cooperation and dialogue mechanisms. Through its Forum, for example,  cities are able to exchange ideas and experiences with other cities. The Network currently comprises 150 cities from 30 countries. In addition, CIVITAS includes what they call National Networks (or CIVINET, groups of cities that work together in their own language), and thematic groups (group of peers exchanging experiences and knowledge on certain thematic fields). It is clear that cooperation and knowledge-sharing is regarded as a key component of the programme and one which certainly accounts for its success.

Intelligent Energy Europe

The Intelligent Energy Europe programme was launched in 2003 as one of the most important financing mechanisms for supporting actions aimed at achieving sustainable mobility systems. The budget for the 2007 2013 period is €730 million. Two calls address transport issues: (a) energy in transport (STEER), with an indicative budget of €12,5 million covering initiatives targeting energy savings and energy efficiency in the transport sector, including stimulation of demand for alternative fuels and clean and energy-efficient vehicles; and (b) integrated initiatives, with an indicative budget of €27 million that simultaneously covers several economic sectors or several of the main areas of energy efficiency, new and renewable resources, and energy in transport.

Smart Cities and Communities European Innovation Partnership

The Smart Cities and Communities European Innovation Partnership was launched in 2012 by the EC to establish a pool of resources on urban demonstration projects dealing with energy, transport, and information and communication technologies through an integrated approach. The ultimate goal is to facilitate the deployment of technology for further market diffusion. Funding is awarded through yearly calls for proposals (€365 million in 2013). As part of this initiative, the EC also launched the Smart Cities Stakeholder Platform to stimulate cooperation and knowledge exchange. It is both a web-based and physical platform open to interested participants and operates mainly using a bottom-up approach.


Territorial based instruments have received increased attention and funding because of the critical role played by local authorities in implementing sustainable mobility policies. This Section focuses on some of the most important: INTERREG, ESPON, INTERACT, and URBACT.


INTERREG was launched in 1989, which makes it one of the few ‘veteran’ EU programmes. It is designed to stimulate cooperation between Member States at different levels of governance. It aims at strengthening economic and social cohesion by fostering cross-border, transnational, and interregional cooperation. Remote regions sharing borders with the candidate countries are a particular  key programme target. INTERREG is composed of three strands:

  • INTERREG A, ‘cross-border cooperation’, which promotes cross-border social and economic development through common development strategies. Budget (2007–2013): €6.5 billion;
  • INTERREG B, ‘transnational cooperation’, which involves national, regional, and local authorities and aims to promote better integration within the EU by creating large groups of European regions. Participating regions do not have to be geographically contiguous, but they should face similar problems. Budget (2007–2013): €1.8 billion;
  • INTERREG C, ‘interregional cooperation’, which aims at improving the effectiveness of regional development policies and instruments through networks exchanging information and sharing experiences. The programme supports two types of projects: regional initiative projects and capitalisation projects. Budget (2007–2013): €321 million.

In terms of Topics, the programme supports the innovation and knowledge economy, environmental protection, and risk prevention. An interesting point about INTERREG is that, even though EU policy is trans European and scientifically grounded, it is more often than not directed at urban areas, but INTERREG, on the contrary, adapts these policies to the specific challenges of the peripheral regions at the fringe of the core metropolitan areas or far away from them. It is more about implementation and tailoring of practices/policies to regional contexts than about innovation. INTERREG has therefore a specific complementary role to play and does it well, as the large number of partners and Good Practices have demonstrated.


INTERACT was created in 2003 to assist three types of territorial cooperation programmes: network programmes, cross-border programmes, and transnational programmes. Its motto is ‘animation, cooperation and transfer’. The initiative provides support, training, and advice on management techniques, financial issues, European regulations, communication, strategic orientation, and policy development. An interesting tool developed by INTERACT is the KEEP database. This is an online tool and community platform containing comprehensive data on previous and ongoing cooperation projects. Moreover, the forum for European Territorial Cooperation functions under the programme’s umbrella – where stakeholders are once again encouraged to collaborate through institutional and thematic networks on Topics of common interest. For capitalisation, INTERACT provides a platform for European Territorial Cooperation stakeholders to share individual and organisational knowledge and expertise gained through cooperation and to learn from each other. Transport and mobility thematic fields are included among the principal themes tackled in order to create closer links with the objectives of the Cohesion Policy.


URBACT is a European programme enabling cities to work together and to develop solutions to key challenges with a view to promoting integrated and sustainable urban development. URBACT focuses on issue-specific projects and brings together six to twelve cities and other partners during a two to three year period. The projects work mainly on facilitating the exchange of knowledge among urban policymakers, decision-makers, and practitioners, by assisting them in defining Action Plans, and by disseminating Good Practices and lessons learnt (capitalisation). URBACT is structured along nine thematic clusters: active inclusion; urban renewal; disadvantaged neighbourhoods; human capital and entrepreneurship; innovation and creativity; low-carbon urban environments; metropolitan governance; port cities; and quality sustainable living. So far, the programme has supported projects in 500 cities in 29 countries and has involved 7000 participants. The budget for the 2007-2013 period was set at €68.9 million.

European Spatial Planning Observation Network (ESPON)

The European Spatial Planning Observation Network (ESPON) was established in 2001 as a cooperative venture between the EC, Member States, and accession countries to support the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP). It is a sui generis process in the sense that it differs from a typical consultancy approach; while at the same time it is not wholly a research programme (it combines features from both). For example, the programme responds to policy-defined demands, but, unlike consultancy work, it carries out primary research. ESPON has been preparing high-quality reports containing a wealth of information, including scenario building and development of new indicators and maps about European territorial structures and dynamics. All relevant territorial domains are analysed, such as those dealing with the environment, transport and competitiveness. The budget for the 2007-2013 period is €47 million.



The development of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans is arguably one of the major areas of focus  of the EC in the field of sustainable mobility. It is easy to understand why: they integrate different policy areas and contribute to several goals in an expectantly coherent and democratic way. In addition to funding, the Commission has been supporting the development of a standard methodology and evaluation methods (for example, the guidelines ‘Developing and Implementing a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan‘). In order to persuade cities to develop and implement such plans, the EC is also investigating the effectiveness of making SUMPs mandatory for cities of a certain size or making them a precondition to unblocking certain financial mechanisms.

Covenant of Mayors

The Covenant of Mayors is a campaign spurred by the EC, bringing together almost 5000 local authorities worldwide that have committed themselves to reducing CO2-emissions and improving energy efficiency beyond Europe 2020 targets. To this effect, participating cities must develop and implement Sustainable Energy Action Plans, and regularly report on their achievements.

ELTIS and Transport Research and Innovation Portal

ELTIS is the main portal financed by the EC for gathering a collection of case studies in a variety of urban mobility Topics. It also provides a library Section with guidelines, handbooks, images, events, job opportunities and funding information. In a world accustomed to the fulminant rise and fall of all sorts of websites, it seems that ELTIS has found its place and managed to win over its fans. It has become a useful tool, with high-quality and up-to-date content. As usual, one can also join the virtual community of ELTIS ‘friends’. The Transport Research & Innovation Portal (TRIP) complements ELTIS by providing an overview of research activities and results at the European level.

Reference Framework for Sustainable Cities

The Reference Framework for Sustainable Cities is a high-level European working group developing a set of tools to assist local authorities and stakeholders towards sustainable urban development. A closed Section of a website – parallel to the main website – is designed to provide registered users with sustainability tools. Its scope is clearly more encompassing than that of SUMPs, for example, given that the three economic, environmental, and social pillars are included.

European Mobility Week and ‘Do the Right Mix’

European Mobility Week has become widely known for its car-free days, but it is actually more than that. It has become a major behavioural change campaign – led by numerous participating organisations –incentivising and convincing citizens to adopt more sustainable mobility patterns. The momentum generated by the campaign effectively encourages local authorities to introduce and promote alternatives to car use. The campaign culminates in the European Mobility Week Award, created by the EC to reward cities deemed to have ‘done the most in raising public awareness to sustainable mobility issues and implementing measures to achieve a shift towards sustainable urban transport.’ In a similar vein, the campaign ‘Do the Right Mix‘ was launched in 2012 to support sustainable urban mobility marketing activities. Unlike the Mobility Week, which mainly targets local authorities, ‘Do the Right Mix’ finances small dissemination activities from basically any interested organisation (groups of people, NGOs, social partners, research and educational institutions, public institutions, private companies, etc.) provided they are deemed good enough to receive funding.

Multi-modal Journey Planners

Policy in this matter is clearly lagging behind other domains. The EC has organised a contest to elect only the best existing multi-modal journey planners, but most existing planners are very limited in their capabilities. If finding bus or train timetables across Europe is still a cumbersome process, buying tickets can be a torment. Anyone who has tried to favour environmentally friendly modes of transport instead of flying has certainly faced such difficulties – and eventually opted for the plane anyway. Given the widespread availability of flight search engines and the maturity of technology in the market, it is difficult to understand why similar technology is not being used for greener modes of transport.

European Green Cars Initiative

The European Green Cars Initiative was the EU flagship demonstration project in the field of electric mobility. It was launched as part of the European Economic Recovery Plan of 2008 with a generous financial envelope of €5 billion (€4 billion through European Investment Bank loans and €1 billion through support for research). In this context, it is also worth mentioning that the Clean Vehicle Portal contains, among other useful information, assessments of lifecycle costs of energy consumption and emissions of pollutants from vehicles on the market.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems

Galileo is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) being developed by the EU. The Galileo system seeks to provide highly accurate and guaranteed positioning for all types of civilian applications, including transport use, and to increase the EU's independence in this field. The fully deployed system will consist of 30 satellites and the associated ground infrastructure. Galileo will deliver better signals in terms of power and band use than the Good Practices, but since both systems are interoperable, their associated use delivers increased benefits in accuracy and availability. Given the vast number of potential uses of the system, the EC released, in 2010, an Action Plan on GNSS applications detailing 24 measures for the 2010-2013 period.

CONCLUSIONS - The added value of Interregional cooperation on Sustainable transport

This section has summarised the main policies, instruments, and initiatives in the transport sector. A word of caution is needed as boundaries are not always easy to draw, nor necessarily meaningful (for example, financial mechanisms can often be considered policies on their own). A point that stands out from this exercise is the comprehensiveness of existing EU transport policies, which cover a very wide range of domains.

However, there is a gap between very ambitious goals and targets as set by long-term strategies and the specific actions put forward and eventually implemented on the ground. Some areas, such as those of clean vehicles and fuels and urban transport infrastructure have advanced at a good pace, while other areas such as the railway reform and intermodality have, in comparison, lagged behind. This perhaps mirrors the inherent challenges and barriers that must be overcome in each of those sectors, but it is not always easy to understand the priorities of the EC and why some areas receive considerably more attention than others.

Lastly, it seems that the abundance of financial mechanisms could be curtailed so as to facilitate access to funding and reduce the associated administrative burdens. There are probably not many advantages to having such a large number, except the fact that some initiatives have managed to create communities of highly diligent and dedicated professionals. Networks of expertise with a flavour of team spirit are indeed difficult to establish and must be nurtured.

In this general context, the INTERREG Programme has an important position, focusing on regional and cross-border cooperation. Among the Myriad of European financial instruments and initiatives, INTERREG has a very clear and specific mission: spreading knowledge and improving regional development through mutual exchange. This role has a very important impact. It facilitates the diffusion and adoption of innovation and of efficient solutions across Europe increasing the average level of experience in European Regions. This role has been played in different contexts and disciplines, and attaining homogeneity throughout Europe in the transportation systems remains an important target.

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