At the Pavement Preservation & Recycling Summit
23 February 2015, Paris
Ladies and gentlemen,
Have you ever wondered why – if we believe musicians – it is a highway that leads to hell (AC/DC), but a stairway that goes to heaven (Led Zeppelin)?
I don’t believe in hell – but I do think that the transport sector, and in particular road transport, are on the wrong course.
Maybe not to hell, but towards climate change, empty public budgets and serious problems for health, life quality and congestion.
We need to make a change of direction to guarantee clean, safe and affordable mobility in Europe.
Your conference is definitely a very important contribution to this debate and I am therefore very happy to speak here today.
Before I share my vision with you on what role preservation and recycling of pavement can play, let me therefore thank you for your kind invitation and for the idea to organise, for the very first time, this summit.
Let me start with the bigger picture. Where do we stand? Where do we go?
Today transport accounts for 24% of all CO2 emissions in the EU. This is bad. But what is worse is that while other sectors have achieved significant reductions over the past decades, the transport sector has seen a sharp increase.
Emissions in the industry have been reduced by 32%, in households by 24% and in the energy production by 16%. Over the same period, transport emissions have increased by 28%!
This path cannot be sustainable. The development of the transport sector nullifies the efforts we have made – with billions of euros of our taxpayers – in other sectors.
In transport, road is responsible for 72% of all CO2 emissions. A change of mobility can therefore only work if we pay great attention to this mode.
And when looking at the road sector, we may not forget construction, maintenance and deconstruct.
5% of the emissions in the road sector result from road construction alone.
And according to a life-cycle analysis financed by the EU, the emissions from construction are only the smaller share of total emissions, amounting to around 40%. The larger share, around 55% of the emissions, is emitted during the maintenance phase.
This highlights the relevance of your summit: Better preservation and recycling can have a huge impact – both for the climate and our budgets!
But in the EU, we seem to be far from understanding this. We spend only around 27% of all road resources on maintenance and preservation.
Almost 3 quarters of spending thus go to the extension of roads or the construction of new infrastructure!
What is more, as an effect of the financial and economic crisis, spending on road maintenance has dropped over the past years in most Member States. On average, the amount decreased by 30% between 2008 and 2011 in the EU.
Although we can see the effects every day – and as a cyclist I always keep an eye on the quality of the pavement! – we seem to be heading in the wrong direction.
Most politicians still believe that it is “sexier” to cut the red ribbon when opening a new road. Only when the problems become overwhelming, there is action.
One of the most prominent examples from my home country Germany is the motorway bridge over the river Rhine near Leverkusen and Cologne. For many years to come, it cannot be used any more by vehicles above 3.5 tonnes because maintenance was neglected.
And the Schierheimer bridge - also over the Rhine - between the two capitals Mainz and Wiesbaden is totally closed!
The ongoing public debate indicates that there is a slow change of mentalities. And our citizens are leading the way: They have already understood that the dogma of “more is better” is outdated.
The new dogma is: “do better with what we have”. Or to rephrase Bill Clinton: “It’s the maintenance, stupid!”
The road patrimonium in the EU has a value of 8 thousand billion euros. If we can maintain, modernise and – where really necessary – complete this huge network, we can be proud!
And of course, differences across Member States should not be forgotten. In some regions, we do need the closing of missing links.
But altogether, let’s move away from the one-sided focus on new roads that comes at the expense of existing infrastructure.
And to be honest, the EU has not done a good job in the past. Most EU funds financed construction or extension projects. And later on, there often was no sufficient demand for these roads. Or Member States often lacked the resources to preserve and maintain them.
And the proposal by the new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for a large Investment Package, seems to repeat these mistakes. Again, we do not look for intelligent solutions that are sustainable in the long run - whenever they are finished.
I come from Berlin and the new Airport is a bad example. We need short-term investments that will be finished in short time ahich will create jobs, will be efficient and will connect Europe.
A boring machine through the Alpes for 20 years would be the opposite of efficiency, creating jobs and connecting Europe.
My alternative vision would be: Why don’t we create a maintenance and modernisation package for all transport modes? Let’s reduce emissions, noise and accidents. Let’s recycle the material we have and make our infrastructure fit for the 21st century!
The job effect would be much bigger than building very few mega projects. And people could see the difference very soon in their daily life!
The EU has already proven that it can do much better than it currently does. There are numerous excellent projects that, with the help of EU support, have produced inspiring results.
The project “Sustainable Pavements for European New Member States”, for example, has developed a guideline to roll-out modern construction and maintenance strategies throughout the EU.
The “Re-Road” project is working on methods to enable the re-use of 99% of asphalt while minimising downgrading of the material.
And the ongoing project “SustainEuroRoad” for instance, is developing an information technologies (IT) tool to optimise road construction works and reduce their environmental impact. The goal is to enable energy savings of 37%, reduce CO2 emissions by 31% and decrease the consumption of natural compounds by 70%
Many of you will know these projects and they show the way towards modern infrastructure management.
But for these initiatives to be successful, it needs the right political framework – both in Member States and at EU level.
We need to provide incentives to focus on the entire life-cycle and to put preservation and maintenance first. We should apply quality, social and environmental standards in public procurement and EU funds.
And we should stop putting private interests before social welfare, as the current Juncker Plan and many “Private-Public Partnerships” do.
Instead, we urgently need to apply the “user-pays” and “polluter-pays” principles. Did you know that only 0.9% of all EU roads are tolled, whereas 100% of the rail network is?
Defining fair mechanism for financing is necessary. And I don’t hide from you that the plans of the German government to introduce a “foreigner pays principle” is the exact opposite of what we need!
Finally, the EU Single Market has a key role to play regarding the quality and sustainability of materials we use. Why not define strict minimum standards for the construction and maintenance of roads, at least for the ones that reserve EU money?
You can see that, as a Chairman of the Transport Committee but also as a Green Member of the European Parliament, am not far away from your objectives. Let’s work together to create a “highway to heaven”.
Thank you very much.