The Eastern Frontier Initiative asked the European Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean if Europe is prepared for a wider military conflict on its territory and what concrete steps are being implemented, in order to achieve a dual transport network, for both civil and military use. The road from civilian transport to military mobility is still a long one. How much will it cost?

Alexandru Olaru, PressOne: How prepared is Europe, at this point, for the possibility of a wider military conflict on EU territory? What are the specific challenges, in your opinion?

Adina Valean, EU Commissioner for Transport: Russia’s war of aggression in the sovereign territory of our neighbour and friend Ukraine has fundamentally changed the world we live in, putting an end to the post-Cold-War certainties and stability to which we had become so accustomed. 

The wheels of a stronger Europe of defence had been in motion already for some years. When it comes to military mobility per se, we had a first Action Plan in place since 2018,  with an EU budget envelope of 1.7 billion euro carved out under the Connecting Europe Facility – far from sufficient, but at least a start.

Certainly, after the 24th of February 2022, all this work took on a new sense of urgency. More aware of the risks and threats, many Member States have gone to great lengths to address years of underinvestment in their military capacities. And I am proud to say that the EU has taken a leading role in coordinating efforts, including by increasing our cooperation with NATO.

With a war at our border, fixing the missing links and bottlenecks in our European infrastructure that could jeopardize the movement of military forces became a priority. In November 2022, we tabled an updated EU Action Plan on Military Mobility, putting this at the top of the Commission’s agenda.

Since then, we have made great strides to improve military mobility in Europe, and this is just the beginning. 

We are currently in the process, together with the EEAS and the EU Military Staff, and in close cooperation with NATO, of identifying the main corridors for short-notice and large-scale movements of military personnel and material. This will allow us to identify gaps, and to focus investments accordingly.

We have also fast-tracked our military mobility budget, having now awarded the entire budget of 1.7 billion euro to 95 dual-use projects, from West to East, and from North to South, covering all modes of transport.

We are also thinking long term. One of the novelties now that we have updated our Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) Regulation, is an obligation for Member States to consider military mobility needs whenever constructing or upgrading infrastructure on the TEN-T. This is a first step towards an EU-wide dual-use transport network!

The revised Regulation also extends TEN-T transport corridors into neighbouring countries for the first time. They now reach Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans. This not only reflects our tighter ties with these countries, but our military interests as well.

How would you explain to a European citizen, in a few words, what a dual European transport network is and why it is important?

Currently, the European transport network is primarily geared towards civilian needs. It has not been built with the intention to allow for short-notice and large-scale movements of military personnel and materiel – nor to account for aspects like the capacity to transport and store dangerous goods, requirements for military logistic hubs, and fuel supply-chain needs in case Europe needs to defend itself from aggression. These are considerations that have taken on a renewed sense of urgency following the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, which has once again brought conflict to our continent.

And yet, Europe does not have a parallel military transport network. The TEN-T, which is Europe’s civilian transport network, coincides to a very large extent (about 97 percent) with the military network. 

What we want to ensure now is that whatever we do on the civilian transport side will also be to the benefit of Military Mobility. A dual-use transport network is one that is designed for or adapted to both civilian and military use. To give a concrete example: if we want a bridge to be able to carry very heavy loads, such as tanks and military material, the design needs to be different to that for a bridge for cars and lorries. 

Similar considerations apply to road and rail tunnels, which have to respect a certain axle load, but also width and height requirements, to allow the passage of military convoys.

Every euro spent should be justified not only as a stand-alone opportunity for military or for civilian transport infrastructure, but to benefit both at the same time.

How far away is the EU from this goal at the moment and why?

EU has one of the best transport networks in the world! But we must not forget that large parts of the network were developed in different times, to serve national rather than European needs. To give but one example: in an era of rampant inter-state conflict and widespread distrust, national railroads were often deliberately designed to be non-interoperable with those of neighbouring states, to slow down enemy troops if war broke out. 

That explains the different track gauges used by Western and Eastern European countries. Harmonising these national or regional networks takes time and is very costly. That is why our TEN-T policy focuses on standardising the core transport arteries first, with a deadline in 2030. Only then will we gradually extend this standardisation to the extended core (completion due 2040) and comprehensive (2050) transport networks.

"Our work is far from over and, unfortunately, resources are limited, so we have to use them wisely, where we find the best added value" - you said on this topic (31 January 2024, symposium on military mobility). So what is the European Commission's estimate of the total sums needed to bring the dual transport network up to the desired standards, and what are the realistic timescales for achieving this goal?

We are working closely with the EEAS, the EU Military Staff and NATO to identify the options for short-notice, large-scale movements, looking at fuel resilience, long-term infrastructure planning and optimal use of our transport infrastructure. This is ongoing work, subject to continuous improvement. The intention is to identify priority military corridors, and to invest in reinforcing the corresponding transport network where necessary. 

As to investment needs, precisely because the network is dual-use, it is difficult to disentangle with precision the amounts that are necessary for either military or civil use. But the 470% oversubscription rate for co-funding in the last call for EU military mobility projects under the Connecting Europe Facility testifies to the important investment needs, and to the keen interest of Member States to shore up remaining infrastructure gaps to support efficient military movements on our main European transport corridors.

What I can say is that the investment needs associated with overall completion of the TEN-T core network by 2030 are estimated at around EUR 515 bn. In addition, the investments needed to implement the new TEN-T requirements for the core network and to complete the extended core network are estimated at approximately EUR 330 bn between now and 2040. This would bring the total investment needed to complete the core and extended core TEN-T to EUR 845 bn over the next 15 years, which equates to about 0.6% of EU GDP annually. 

What does "added value" mean in this context? What is the overriding interest when dual carriage projects are evaluated? What happens, for example, if a transport infrastructure segment has no "added value" in terms of civilian transport, but scores on a military mobility map?

Let me first clarify the context in which I said this. I was referring to the evaluation of projects proposed for EU co-funding under the Military Mobility envelope of the Connecting Europe Facility (our main transport infrastructure funding instrument at EU level), which as I indicated previously was highly over-subscribed.

With these calls, we co-fund dual use transport infrastructure projects that increase synergies between our defence needs and the general TEN-T objectives. In other words, the "added value" is measured both from the civil and military perspective. We do not co-fund "military only" projects. 

All projects proposed for funding are assessed by an independent panel comprising both civil and military evaluators. The latter are basically representatives of the EU Military Staff (EUMS). Their assessment of projects is essentially based on the following two questions: i) to what extent would the proposed project help improve the strategic deployment of military forces in the EU for missions, operations and routine activities? And ii) to what extent would the project eliminate the gaps identified on the Member State's infrastructure network, including bottlenecks currently undermining military movements. 

The ‘civil’ assessment of projects focuses on the general TEN-T objectives (to what extent does the project facilitate transport across Europe and reduce regional, economic and social disparities by developing interconnected infrastructure for air, road, rail and shipping?), the European Green Deal objectives (reduction in greenhouse gas emissions) and the project’s contribution to the objectives of Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy – our long-term transport strategy. The evaluators then score the projects based on these considerations, and a final selection is made that also takes geographical balance into account. 

Which countries and regions are vulnerable in this respect and why? How do Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania fare in this respect?

What I can say is that our military mobility policy focuses on the development of an EU-wide network that allows for the reinforcement and sustainment of military convoys across the EU, from North to South, from West to East. It is clear that our biggest threat today is on the Eastern flank, but this does not mean we should not invest in our defence capabilities and in logistics support in the West, North and South as well.

An analysis by the US think tank CEPA looked at five military mobility scenarios: the Nordic-Baltic route (Norway-Sweden-Estonia), the Suwałki corridor (Poland), the Western Balkans, Libya and the Falklands Corridor/Gateway. What is the European Commission's assessment of each of these infrastructure objectives (with the exception of Libya) and to what extent do the ECA scenarios coincide with the EU executive's own assessments?

The Commission is not tasked with performing military vulnerability assessments of Member States. We work closely together with the EEAS, EU military staff (EUMS) and NATO to identify the core military mobility corridors and the transport infrastructure gaps that require attention as a priority along these corridors.

Among other things, the European Commission recently announced that it is supporting military mobility projects worth a total of €807 million. 18 Member States are beneficiaries, and Romania has only one such project approved, a feasibility study for a bridge across the Danube (connection with Bulgaria). Why only this?

The EU’s financial programming for 2021-2027 earmarked EUR 1.7 billion to co-fund dual-use (civilian-defence) transport infrastructure through CEF to support military mobility across the EU. 

Following three Military Mobility calls (2021, 2022, 2023), 95 projects were selected, and are underway in 21 Member States. I am happy to say that the projects cover all transport modes. And it is equally important that some of the projects will improve infrastructure along the EU-Ukraine Solidarity Lanes, the corridors central to Ukraine's imports and exports. This will also be important in the longer term: accession will require better transport connectivity and integration with the EU Member States. 

The CEF Military Mobility envelope for 2021-2027 has now been exhausted.

The 2023 call was the most competitive of the three with 112 project proposals received, requesting funding almost five times the available budget. This is a direct result of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which has highlighted the urgent need for more dual-use infrastructure projects and led to much higher competition for funding. 

When it comes to Romania, after the three calls for proposals, four projects have been selected, and allocated EU funding of roughly €80 million, which is about 4.7% of the overall MilMob budget. This puts Romania in an honourable 10th place (out of 27 Member States) in terms of projects selected, and 9th in terms of EU co-funding.

These projects are hugely important for military mobility, for the connectivity of our Ukrainian and Moldovan neighbours to EU transport networks, and for Romanian-Bulgarian cross-border connectivity.

We are already working to increase the funding envelope for military mobility in the next programming period. 

What is the overall quality of the transport projects and feasibility studies proposed by the countries of the Eastern Flank to Brussels (including dual)?

There is no simple answer to this question. Every eligible proposal is evaluated on its own merits against the work programme, based on the call text and the award criteria (priority & urgency, maturity, quality, impact, catalytic effect) and then ranked. As a result, only the highest quality and highest ranked proposals are retained for funding. Having said that, due to the number of proposals received, not all good projects can receive funding. We simply don’t have sufficient budget.

Some 95 high-quality projects are now underway across the EU, in 21 Member States, including on the EU’s Eastern Flank and in the vicinity of Ukraine and Russia (including in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden and Finland).

Although smaller (it has 76 percent of the surface area of Poland), Romania has four times fewer kilometres of motorway and almost seven times fewer kilometres of modernised railway. What do European Commission assessments of urgent infrastructure needs show? Where does the EC think Romania should focus its resources as a priority in the short and medium term?

The transport infrastructure funds made available to Romania under my mandate are unprecedented – 12 billion in total. Most of the funds targeted the rail and road networks. There is good reason for this: the rail network needs modernising to bring it up to EU standards. The current priorities are two horizontal axes – from Constanta to the Hungarian border, via Bucharest and Craiova for freight transport, and via Bra?ov for passenger traffic. Rail connectivity with Bulgaria is another priority, and is being stepped on the Bucharest-Giurgiu line. 

For roads, the priority is clearly to fill the connection gaps in the western part of the country, but also to better connect the Moldova region with the rest of the country with modern, high-quality motorways.

What factors do you think have brought Romania to its current situation? The more complicated terrain than in Hungary or Poland, for example, corruption, lack of political will, incompetence, other factors or all of them together?

Delays are often the result of insufficient project preparation; this inevitably leads to longer implementation times. The solution is to improve efficiency, quality and transparency – at the planning and preparation stages, and then during implementation. 

The Commission, however, offers Technical Assistance to bolster Member States’ technical and administrative capacity. I have set-up a specific task force to support Romania and Bulgaria to increase their level of implementation on EU funding and we are in constant dialogue with their authorities to monitor an improve the current level of absorption. The very good results of Romania in the Military Mobility calls, but also in the CEF calls demonstrates that such cooperation has delivered good results.

At the moment, military equipment is transported to Europe mainly by rail. In Romania, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure is responsible for ensuring the viability of roads. How do you see this model of delegation of responsibility? Is it an optimal solution or is the improvement of dual carriage a large project that should bring several actors together, including the Ministry of Defence? Please explain.

Given the importance of ensuring that our key transport arteries are designed and built for dual-use, for me it would make sense for those at the transport ministry to consult their defence colleagues when planning and designing large transport infrastructure projects. Although if transport infrastructure standards were aligned with military requirements, such consultations would become redundant. 

This would however require the transport and defence ministries to agree on the standards to be used. This is what we are also promoting when it comes to the TEN-T. Member States will have to consult with military forces when deciding to build or upgrade new transport infrastructure.

To give an example: if we had an agreement on a common height for train tunnels – a height that allows the passage of military loads – there would be no need for case-by-case consultation. That is the approach we are taking with the TEN-T, on the essential network: we agree on EU-wide standards, aligned with military requirements, to ensure that the entire TEN-T network is dual-use by design.

How would you describe the relationship, communication and prioritisation between policy makers, the European Commission and Defence (Military) officials in Central and Eastern European countries (NATO Eastern Flank)?

As I hope that I’ve already made clear, we enjoy very good and constructive working relationships with our colleagues at the EEAS and EU Military Staff, as well as at NATO. 

What are the chances of the project to link the port of Constanta to Gdansk, as envisaged in the framework of the Three Seas Initiative? What are the obstacles to this project?

The project to link the port of Constanta to Gdansk, which we often refer to as the ‘Rail2Sea’ project, is a joint initiative between several Member States (Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland). The Commission is not one of the initiators. That does not mean that we do not welcome the initiative – on the contrary, in particular when it comes to certain sections along the Baltic Sea–Black Sea–Aegean Sea Corridor. 

The corridor is due for completion by 2030, but I cannot give you more details of the Rail2Sea project as a whole, as I said, this is a project lead by member states. 

How should/could the Danube be exploited to (perhaps) compensate for the lack of other types of infrastructure in countries like Romania?

The Danube is an extremely important inland waterways, critical for this transport system of not only Romania, but for the whole region. And indeed, inland waterways transportation is cheaper and more sustainable that other modes. 

Danube has proven to be of extreme use in the context of the Russian aggression to Ukraine. From May 2022 until February 2024, 68% of the agricultural goods exported by Ukraine left the country via the Danube and passed through the port of Constanta. The Danube has not only been the lifeline for Ukrainian exports, but also for the import of essential goods.

The EU, together with Romania, has invested significantly in improving the quality of navigation management on the Danube, in particular through the ‘Primus’ project, which is enabling night navigation on the Sulina Canal as well as other important  project likes the "FastDanube" and "FairDanube" key to ensure the navigability all year round.

I was personally very involved in trying to put the parties together, to increase cooperation between Bulgaria and Romania because I would like to see Danube used at its potential. I am happy that the two countries managed, with our full support, to submit FastDanube 2 project for financing in the last CEF call. 

In the longer term – to further improve navigation and adapt to the consequences of climate change – a comprehensive programme is needed to improve navigation conditions in critical areas. The objective is to allow navigation all year long, so that the Danube becomes a reliable link between the Black Sea and Central European countries.

How problematic, in your and the European Commission's assessment, is the difference in rail gauge between the Republic of Moldova (now part of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T)). and Europe?

The different gauges prevent the full integration of the Moldovan railway into the EU railway system. In the context of the accession process, it is important for Moldova to improve rail connectivity with the EU. This will benefit rail customers – passengers and freight alike – who will have greater access to neighbouring countries and the EU market for goods and services. Without this connectivity, the Moldovan network will remain isolated from that of the EU, which will put a brake on further integration. We already started to work on the issue, with a study to assess the opportunity for a European gauge line to link Ukraine with EU, Molodva with the EU and Moldova and Ukraine. 

There is talk in Chisinau of a transition from wide to standard gauge in at least 10 years. How do you assess this timeframe, in the context of the war in Ukraine and concerns about a possible extension of the military conflict?

As I said, rail interoperability must be seen as an opportunity for Moldova to connect with the EU network in peace time. It is also a security asset for Moldova. That is why the process should begin without delay. It will take some time and will be expensive, but as we have seen with other countries that have connected to the EU rail network, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

What do you think the countries of the Eastern flank should do in the coming years to strengthen democracy in the Republic of Moldova and its integration into the European Union?

Strengthening democracy in Moldova should be a priority for Moldovans as it will offer stabilisation and a bright future within the EU. This will also be reassuring for the country’s EU neighbours, and in fact the entire European Union. 

Developing the rule of law and fighting corruption are probably the two priority reforms to facilitate the transition towards a stronger democratic regime and future EU membership. The neighbouring EU Member States should lead Moldova by example here.

 "We need a military Schengen to ensure a faster and more efficient movement of military personnel and equipment. This will make Europe stronger. We have taken an important step: Poland, Germany and the Netherlands have signed a declaration for a military corridor", Kajsa Ollongren, the Dutch Minister of Defence, said at the end of January 2024. More and more voices in the EU are talking about a 'military Schengen area' - what does this concept mean from the European Commission's point of view?

Indeed, a high-quality transport network is only a part of the military mobility puzzle. Today, internal customs and administrative formalities often delay troop and military material movements. When transporting arms, explosives or even food for our troops, any such delays can cost lives, and this is unacceptable. 

We certainly need to work more together to update and standardise the rules and procedures that apply to the movement of troops and military equipment inside the EU. And doing this based on priority geographical corridors can be a good starting point, so the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Poland, Germany and the Netherlands is certainly a good step in this regard.

How do you assess the damage caused to Romania by its refusal to be admitted to the Schengen area (separate from the compromise on air Schengen). I leave it up to you to interpret the term "damage", from material damage to the increase, perhaps, of extremist and anti-European currents.

The European Commission supported without reserves the full integration of Romania and Bulgaria in Schengen. All experts made the same recommendation, meaning that Romania is prepared for being a part of Schengen. 

Austria blocks the process, and the decision is purely subjective and of political nature, it has nothing to do with the preparedness of Romania. Of course, there are "costs" for Austria’s "whims", costs that are paid by Romania and EU as a whole – economic losses, bad air quality in the borders areas, hard working conditions for transport workers, and, as you well say, a sense of revolt towards the injustice that Austria is inflicting towards Romania and Bulgaria.

Romania must insist to ensure a positive decision, the European Commission will support, as always such a decision. 

You said in Strasbourg that a Schengen area consisting only of Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, as proposed by some MEPs, would put "fabulous pressure" on the border between Romania and Hungary, and implied that such a solution would not be preferable, because it is, and I quote, "partial". On the other hand, the three countries could clearly benefit, including economically, from such a deal. How are things progressing in this respect?

Our objective is full application of the Schengen rules in Romania and Bulgaria. Protocol number 19 of the Schengen acquis underlines the need to preserve the integrity of these acquis. 

Intensive work is underway to allow the Council to lift the border checks causing delays at land borders between Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. The Schengen Coordinator is engaging with the Member States in the region to step up regional cooperation, taking a whole-of-route approach to address security threats. 

For the moment, land border checks are carried out in accordance with the Schengen Borders Code, which allows for a relaxation of border checks under exceptional or unforeseen circumstances, including when intense traffic leads to excessive waiting times.

Protests by European farmers continue, both in Brussels and elsewhere. At the Hodonin-Holic crossing between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, farmers from the two countries, supported by counterparts from Hungary and Poland, shouted, among other things, Down with Brussels bureaucracy. In response, you announced a few days later that the EU would step up controls on Ukrainian grain shipments. What does the European Commission take away from the criticism of it in the context of the grain crisis and what message do you have today for farmers who have been promised support from Brussels?

Protests by some farmers are severely disrupting traffic on the EU’s road network, and notably on the EU-Ukraine Solidarity Lanes, with Polish farmers having blocked all major border crossing points with Ukraine. This has negative impacts for EU and Ukrainian business and for the working conditions of the drivers forced to wait on both sides of the borders. This also has a negative effect on other border crossing points, in neighbouring Member States, who need to absorb higher numbers of trucks, with limited - if any - additional capacity, and spillover effects in terms of road congestion.

As Transport Commissioner, I cannot offer solutions to address farmers’ concerns. But I can say that the Commission is working with national governments and Ukraine to facilitate the smooth functioning of border crossing points, ensuring that Ukraine can import and export the good it needs. At the same time, while recognising people’s right to protest, lorries must be able to cross borders, and freely circulate within the European Union. This is enshrined in EU law. And Member States are the ones responsible for applying in their territories the law. 

You say that the Bucharest-Budapest high-speed train line is still of great interest to the Hungarian government. What should we in Romania understand from this statement? Are any blockages, obstacles or slow pace caused by the government in Bucharest? Why?

Implementing a high-speed rail connection between Budapest and Bucharest is a shared objective: for Romania, Hungary and the European Commission. 

In our revised TEN-T regulation we have put the objective of having all the EU capitals connected by high-speed rail until 2040. Of course, I hope the project will be finalised sooner. Later, it will be an obligation. 


This article was written in the framework of The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI) project. TEFI is a collaboration of independent publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, to foster common thinking and cooperation on European security issues in the region. The project aims to promote knowledge sharing in the European press and contribute to a more resilient European democracy.

Members of the consortium are 444 (Hungary), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), SME (Slovakia), PressOne (Romania), and Bellingcat (The Netherlands).

The TEFI project is co-financed by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.