Photo: Fabian Muller, unsplash.com
Conclusions and final remarks
This report is the second and final report in the project titled NORDINFRA – “Nordic Transport infrastructure planning – institutional obstacles and opportunities for coordination”. The first report, “Cross-border transport infrastructure planning in the Nordic Region – An introduction” (2023), was based on desk studies and provided a comparative overview of the central elements of the transport infrastructure planning systems in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, as well as how those are linked to the EU and Nordic perspectives. In this report we have looked closely into case study interviews to understand barriers and enabling factors for improved cross-border transport infrastructure planning. The two reports are complementary.
Our findings from the project, conducted in 2021-2023, show that cross-border transport infrastructure planning faces major challenges, but also bears potential for improvement. The main conclusion of this study is that national governments play a key role in transport policy, and that improving cross-border transport infrastructure planning in the Nordic Region is dependent on prioritisation of this area by the governments of the Nordic countries. Compared to the European Union, which is rooted in international law, the Nordic Council of Ministers is based on intergovernmental cooperation, and legal collaboration between the Nordic countries has been decreasing over the years (see e.g. Lorange Backer, 2018).
The chief potential for improving cross-border transport infrastructure planning in the Nordic Region lies in the national governments’ interest in complementing the national and EU perspectives with stronger engagement in the Nordic perspective and the Nordic transport system. Unless national governments prioritise a Nordic perspective on transport infrastructure planning and send clear signals to their national transport authorities and mandate them to engage in those issues, Nordic collaboration will be limited to analyses and collaboration on individual cross-border projects and sector-specific information sharing, mainly within the rail and road sectors. Although many regional and local players and stakeholders are involved in cross-border transport infrastructure and also make strong contributions to the development of cross-border infrastructure planning, their roles and mandate are limited.
Clear political signals and mandates to create a joint Nordic knowledge base for the Nordic transport system and develop joint tools for analysis and planning would give the transport authorities the mandate to engage in collaboration across the borders and help improve cross-border transport infrastructure planning.
The findings show that in cross-border projects and in border regions, cross-border knowledge and skills are developed over time. The same is true of the “craftsmanship” of cross-border collaboration, which may compensate both for formal and informal obstacles. Previous examples show that institutionalised structural collaboration over time can help generate in-depth knowledge about the Nordic transport system and how it works, as well as how cross-border transport infrastructure planning can be facilitated.
Final remarks and future research
Policymaking and policy processes, such as cross-border transport infrastructure planning, involve numerous players and interests, such as government and government agencies, experts, politics, business, the legislature, interest groups, media etc. From the literature on policymaking and policy processes, we can learn that policies are formulated in the context of policy discourses (Hajer, 2003). They are also the results of past negotiations, increasing returns, critical junctures and place-binding constraints (Pierson, 2000). Challenges can be found along various lines, such as hegemonic interests, power relations, lack of adequate problem analysis or appropriate policy processes or policy solutions, as well as the ability to deal with issues of communication, transparency and legitimacy. Cross-border transport infrastructure planning requires a multi-method approach (Groenewegen and de Jong, 2008) and in-depth studies that engage with real-world policymaking processes (Marsden and Reardon, 2017). It should also include different spatial perspectives (Peña and Durand, 2022).
This work has been guided by institutional theory focusing on how formal and informal rules frame players’ roles and behaviour (e.g. North 1990, Williamson, 2000, Voigt 2014) in cross-border transport infrastructure planning in the Nordic Region. To further increase knowledge on cross-border transport infrastructure planning, future research could engage more with the specific collaboration mechanisms at play and the outcome of these processes, as well as with the development of the suggested analytical tools for joint transport infrastructure planning in the Nordic Region.