Green light given for 11 continental transport schemes

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CORFU - The European Union summit was not a complete bust. It agreed details of multi-billion- pound transport projects, clearing the way - in principle - for new infrastructure plans that will help to draw the continent together, writes Andrew Marshall.

But the summiteers fudged the key issue of financing for the Trans-European Networks - strategic transport, energy and environmental projects to be funded publicly and privately. They agreed a priority list of 11 big transport schemes, including Britain's fast-rail link to the Channel Tunnel. They emphasised that these should be started as quickly as possible, in 1996 at the latest.

But the most complex and politically awkward question - how to finance the new networks - was left substantially unresolved. The summit's conclusions simply state that measures will be taken, if proved necessary, so that 'priority projects do not run into financial obstacles which would jeopardise them'. If cash shortfalls arise, 'the Council will immediately consider with the Commission and the European Investment Bank the appropriate responses'. This leaves the Commission's desire to raise capital for the projects hanging in the air, with EU finance ministers still objecting to new borrowing by Brussels.

The Trans-European Networks are part of an ambitious plan to regenerate the European economy which was launched in December in Brussels by the European Commission President, Jacques Delors. The summit did make some progress on telecommunications, which are also pivotal to the Delors initiative.

The EU leaders decided to set up an inter-governmental body to co-ordinate work on building telephone and computer networks, but emphasised that 'it is primarily up to the private sector to respond to this challenge'.

The summit failed to give a clear line on the future of labour- market regulation, which free- market leaders like John Major believe is the most significant cause of joblessness.

In a 31-page communique there is precious little that is new, or of substance. France and Germany together pushed for a joint initiative on xenophobia and racism, which was agreed by the summit. It will set up a consultative commission composed of 'eminent personalities' who will make recommendations of co-operation between governments to encourage tolerance and boost training efforts. But it is far short of the more detailed and hence more controversial proposals put forward by Padraig Flynn, Commissioner for Social Affairs.

As usual the summit considered the world's major biggest trouble spots - Bosnia, Rwanda, North Korea and the Middle East - and came up with little of substance.