The Treaty establishing the European Economic Community of 1957 already announced the introduction of a common transport policy as one of the three most important policies for the Community – including inland waterway transport. However, we had to wait around 30 years for the actual introduction of this policy.
In 1983, the document „Progress towards a common transport policy – inland transport” was created and followed by White Paper on transport in 1985 which clearly indicated there was a need to develop inland waterway transport.
The most important documents defining the postulates of the European transport policy were created at the turn of the 20th and 21st century. In 1992, European Commission published its White Paper on the future development of the common transport policy and in 1996 the „European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance” (AGN) was adopted in Geneva. Finally, in 2001 the European Commission presented its „White Paper – European Transport Policy 2010 – Time to Decide”.
In 2006, as the previous actions were deemed insufficient, new instruments were introduced, including the integrated instrument for inland navigation NAIDES and NAIDES II.
These documents pointed to, among other things, the growing „external costs” caused by the dominance of road transport and related to: the high number of road accident victims (25,000 fatalities and 135,000 severely injured persons in 2018 only), the costs of congestion, the highest share of road transport in the emissions of greenhouse gases (transport is responsible for the ¼ of the overall emission of CO2, of which road transport generated more than 80%), as well as energy consumption and the environmental costs related to, e.g. the need to take over new pieces of land for transport purposes. In Poland alone, the National Road Safety Council has estimated the costs of road accidents in 2020 at PLN 56.6 billion.
It was indicated that it is necessary to diversify forms of transport and to shift a large part of it to railways and waterways. The European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN) set out a network of interconnected European waterways and defined their minimum parameters. Three of these routes run through the Polish territory. Poland – as one of the last Member States – signed the AGN in 2017.
The main goal of the European transport policy is transfer 30% of cargo transported by road over a distance greater than 300 km to rail and waterways by 2030, and 50% by 2050. It also adopted the idea of all base seaports be linked to rail and inland waterway networks.
These goals were restated yet again in 2011 in another White Paper on transport: “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area–towards a Competitive and Resource-efficient Transport System” which constitutes a vision for the development of the European Union’s transport system by 2050. It states that inland waterway transport is not used to its full potential. It also advises the “missing links” be eliminated and a network of around 350 inland ports be constructed, including multimodal ports.
In its Sustainable and Smart Mobility strategy for 2021-2027, the European Commission will focus on the implementation of the New European Green Deal with its second task being to increase the capacity of railways, inland waterways, and intermodal transport. And the programme which was announced in mid-2021 and revolves around the reduction of the greenhouse gases emission by at least 55% by 2030 (Fit for 55) will encourage a shift towards inland waterways transport.
Unfortunately, the percentage of inland waterway transport in freight transport still remains low at around 6%, despite all the efforts to further develop it.
Map of the main waterways in Europe
Source: European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance