The EESC advocates for a stronger Connecting Europe Facility after 2020

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A stronger budget, more synergies between networks, continued technical support, reaffirmed commitment to investment in electricity projects, and dual‑use of civilian‑military infrastructure. In the opinion put together by Aurel Laurențiu Plosceanu and Graham Watson, which was approved at the EESC plenary on 19 September 2018, the EESC broadly supports the new Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) regulation for the period 2021-2027 and tells the Commission where there is room for improvement.

The European Union will invest in trans-European transport, energy and digital networks through the reformed CEF programme. Up-to-date and high-performance infrastructure is key to helping connect and integrate European regions, stimulating job creation and achieving smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The CEF is one of the most successful EU programmes and is of strategic importance for the integration of the internal market, the completion of the Energy Union, smart mobility and the opportunity for the EU to deliver tangible added value for citizens, social cohesion and businesses, stated Mr Plosceanu. By the end of 2017 CEF Transport had already allocated EUR 21.3 billion in grants for projects leading to EUR 41.6 billion of total investments. It is estimated that every EUR 1 billion invested will create up to 20 000 jobs, he added.

Sir Graham was on the same wavelength, underlining that, we must not allow regulatory authorities in Member States or at EU level to frustrate electricity interconnection, for example, by freezing out schemes which are privately financed. If we are to meet our climate goals we will need both public and private finance in trans‑European networks.

The EESC welcomes the revised regulation presented by the European Commission and points out five areas for improvement.

  • A stronger CEF 2021-2027 budget

The Committee calls for continued commitment from the EU and national public authorities and encourages the Commission to allocate a stronger budget to the CEF for the period after 2020. Grants should remain the major component.

  • More synergies between transport, energy and digital infrastructure

The EESC advises the European Commission and the Member States to further encourage synergies at project level between the following sectors: transport, energy and digital networks. Synergies are currently limited because of the rigidity of the budgetary framework as regards the eligibility of projects and of costs.

  • Continued technical support

The Committee recommends that the Commission continue providing technical support, through the CEF Programme Support Action, to promote the eligibility of mature and high-quality projects. The Commission should also simplify administrative requirements and update the evaluation criteria, so that it is easier to identify the added value of different projects.

  • Maintaining commitment to investment in electricity projects

The EESC urges the European Parliament and the Council to maintain the commitment in the previous CEF regulation to spend most of the energy budget on electricity projects. Only by doing so will the CEF be in line with the EU's climate and energy policy, avoiding becoming a major source of funding for fossil energy projects within the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). This commitment should be strengthened rather than weakened in the CEF 2021-2027.

  • Investing in the dual-use of civilian-defence infrastructure

In order to improve military mobility in the EU, the CEF will invest for the first time ever in the dual‑use of civilian‑military transport infrastructure. In this respect, the Committee suggests supporting the TEN-T networks and the regions most exposed to military risks and recommends keeping an open and pro‑active approach in the new geopolitical international context.