The increase of maritime links between Malta and Sicily and better infrastructure connecting the ports of Valletta, Marsaxlokk and Palermo feature on the EU’s list of transport priorities, known as the TEN-T network, for the period until 2020.

Unveiling a €50 billion plan to consolidate Europe’s transport, energy and broadband networks, the EU Executive included a new Helsinki-Valletta corridor, aimed at developing a north-south vital European link.

The link will connect major sea and air ports through rail and road networks across the EU while facilitating better maritime links between Malta and the rest of the European continent through Sicily.

An EU official said that by putting Malta on the map, the island would be able to tap funds dedicated specifically to the development of this corridor, one of 10 to be created across the EU.

“Malta’s possible projects will be given priority if they fit the new cross-border links being planned by the EU to create a unified European network,” the official said.

However, funds will not be available automatically. Member states will have to present their specific plans according to the EU’s designated corridors, which will have to be approved by the European Commission. The first projects are expected to be approved by 2014.

The new blueprint, unveiled this week by Commission president José Manuel Barroso, also addresses a problem raised by the Sicilian authorities after the island had been completely bypassed in draft plans.

The corridor previously ended in Bari and then continued to Malta through a maritime route. However, following intense pressure by the Italian authorities, the Commission yesterday revised its plans, giving Sicily the opportunity to upgrade its Palermo-Messina link and the possible creation of new roads and rail links from the ports of Pozzallo and Augusta to Catania, indirectly also facilitating Malta’s commuting links to the rest of the European continent.

Malta was in favour of this change and supported the Italian pleas.

Apart from transport, which will be benefiting from the bulk of the €50 billion investment, €9 billion have been dedicated to upgrade the energy network, particularly through oil and gas pipelines and expanding the electricity grid. Another €9 billion are earmarked for filling the gaps in the broadband network.

The Commission is suggesting a new mechanism to finance these projects through the possible launching of European project bonds. The bonds would be issued by infrastructure project companies, not the Commission directly, but EU and European Investment Bank funds would be used to cover part of the project risk, making the bonds more attractive to investors such as insurance companies and pension funds.

The Commission proposed allocating €230 million for project bonds during a pilot phase in 2012 and 2013, rising to a “significant” but unspecified chunk of the €50 billion infrastructure plan from 2014..

Source: Times of Malta

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