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Photo: Kotryna Juskaite

Potential for improving cross-border transport infrastructure planning

In the previous section, we presented key challenges related to barriers to cross-border transport infrastructure planning in the Nordic Region. In this forward-looking section, we will focus on the potential for improving cross-border transport infrastructure planning. We will concentrate on three main issues that were raised in our interviews: increased political cooperation in the Nordic Region, the need for increased joint knowledge on Nordic transport infrastructure planning and the development of joint tools. 

1. Increase Nordic political collaboration on transport infrastructure

There is a sharp contrast between 1) the Nordic countries’ dependency on international trade, the amount of transported goods and mobility within the Nordic Region and 2) the narrow national perspectives in the National Transport Plans and lack of political priority accorded to cross-border transport infrastructure. This is further illustrated by the fact that there is no dedicated Nordic political platform for transport infrastructure policy issues, although several political bodies, including the Nordic Council, have been pushing for such a platform and attempts to strengthen the Nordic political dialogue have been made.
Moreover, there is no regularly updated comprehensive overview of the transport infrastructure system in the Nordic Region that is also integrated with the national overviews and models of the transport networks and associated flows. Recent developments, such as Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the new geopolitical situation in Europe, further emphasise the need for a strategic overview of transport infrastructure and transport flows in the Nordic Region.
A large majority of the case study interviews indicate that the main potential for improving cross-border transport infrastructure planning lies with improved Nordic political cooperation, primarily at the ministerial and government level. It is only through national-level government mandates and assignments from the responsible ministries to their respective authorities that the national authorities will have the necessary mandate to increase cooperation among the countries, improve coordination among the National Transport Plans and initiate and facilitate more synchronised planning processes. The cross-border Joint Barents Transport Plan can serve as inspiration here. Only two interviewees indicated that the current collaboration between the Nordic countries on cross-border transport infrastructure planning is sufficient. 
One possibility to strengthen the Nordic national level government cooperation on transport infrastructure could be through the re-installation of a Council of Ministers for Transport (MR-Transport) within the Nordic Council of Ministers. Such a council could serve as a political platform for joint discussions on Nordic collaboration regarding transport infrastructure. Today, the national transport administration agencies cooperate primarily through sector-based platforms such as the NVS (Nordic Road Association) and the NJS (Forum for Nordic Railway Professionals). However, according to the interviews, not all countries participate regularly. Although the Nordic transport administration agencies meet for the exchange of information on a regular basis and the cooperation on singular projects between the countries is reported to work well, the impact of these efforts on the overall system for Nordic cross-border transport infrastructure planning seems to be limited. 
It is likely that enhanced Nordic political collaboration on transport infrastructure would also help improve and increase cooperation among the national transport administration agencies. Increased collaboration at national level would lend formal legitimacy to increased cooperation in the Nordic Region among those players involved in transport infrastructure planning in general and those involved in cross-border transport infrastructure planning in particular. More formalised collaboration would also help improve knowledge about the different planning systems and governance structures, which would in turn facilitate further cooperation.

2. Facilitate a joint Nordic knowledge base on transport infrastructure

The Nordic countries are small countries characterised by long distances and a common history. Global trade is important and cross-border transport infrastructure supports the flow of goods and passengers. That is beneficial for extended labour markets, economic growth and Nordic freedom of movement alike. However, today there is no comprehensive and regularly updated overview of freight and passenger flows within the Nordic Region covering all modes of transport. There is also a lack of systematic overview as to how priorities in the countries’ National Transport Plans impact transport flows in the other Nordic countries and the Nordic Region as a whole. 
The creation of a joint Nordic knowledge base on transport infrastructure in the Nordic Region would help overcome some of those challenges. This knowledge base should focus on increasing knowledge and in-depth understanding of transport flows in the Nordic Region, including the above-mentioned overview of freight and transport flows and how the different National Transport Plans’ impact transport flows in the other Nordic countries and in the Nordic territory as a whole. 
The knowledge base would serve as a common platform for the exchange of knowledge and experiences. It would also act as a platform for in-depth collaboration between the Nordic countries in prioritised areas within transport infrastructure planning. Based on the interviews, this should include both joint analyses and the development of joint analytical tools. Better coordination between the transport plans can be expected to be beneficial for the Nordic transport system. At minimum, the time frames of the National Transport Plans should be coordinated. Some interviewees pointed to increased knowledge and better coordination as the first steps towards a Nordic transport model. Although rail transport stands out as being particularly important for joint analyses, a joint comprehensive knowledge base should cover the whole transport system, e.g. including roads, ports and airports. The development of joint analyses should apply a transport route perspective and also target a socioeconomic efficiency perspective, including analyses of how CO2 emissions can be curbed by investing in relevant infrastructure and technologies and how the switch to CO2 efficient modes of transport can be achieved.
It is important to note that a joint Nordic knowledge base would not replace the national analyses conducted in each individual country. By complementing those analyses, it would contribute to increased knowledge and information sharing, boost understanding of the ways in which the Nordic transport system is an integrated system and facilitate cooperation between the transport authorities. It would also increase knowledge about how transport infrastructure planning is conducted in the various Nordic countries and could also form the basis for more institutionalised and structured cooperation between the Nordic countries. EU transport policy and TEN-T would be important frameworks and points of departure for this work.
Knowledge generated by the knowledge base could feed not only into future National Transport Plans, but also into EU transport policy. It could provide knowledge for prioritisation of cross-border transport infrastructure. Furthermore, it could be expected to facilitate bilateral and multilateral agreements on transport infrastructure. Although transport policy would remain a national policy area, a joint knowledge base could facilitate informed decision-making by policymakers on cross-border transport infrastructure. However, as highlighted in some of the interviews, it is important to note that issues should not be “locked into” international collaboration when they could just as well be solved bilaterally.
Regional stakeholders should be appropriately involved in creating a Nordic knowledge base. Through their in-depth knowledge and insight into economic and labour market development in their regions – i.e. those factors that drive the demand for transport infrastructure – the regional stakeholders and cross-border regions play an important role.
A joint Nordic knowledge base for transport could also increase preparedness to tackle future challenges. Many global challenges with the potential to impact the Nordic transport system and the flow of goods and passengers are currently materialising. Examples of such challenges are the Russian aggression against Ukraine and its impact on trade flows, the related application by Sweden and Finland to join NATO, the green transition with both positive and negative implications for different industries and the transport sector, rising and volatile energy prices and their impact on industries and households, and the impact of new infrastructure investments such as the Fehmarn Link. 

3. Develop joint Nordic tools for transport infrastructure planning

Overall, there are marked similarities in the way in which the Nordic countries conduct transport infrastructure planning. The time frames, the major steps in the processes and the methods for financing and management of transport infrastructure have many features in common. Nevertheless, there are also differences, for example when it comes to the division of responsibilities between different levels of government, decision-making procedures, cost-benefit calculation models and use and attitudes towards different financing models.
However, increasing political collaboration in the Nordic Region at national level and a joint knowledge base would provide not only legitimacy and a mandate but also a framework for transport authorities to develop joint analytical tools. That would enable, for example, analyses of trends and impacts of national transport infrastructure investments on the other countries in the Nordic Region. Statistics collected by Eurostat and other international bodies would serve as a point of departure for that work. 
One important obstacle raised in the interviews is the different national calculation models for impact analysis and the fact that in the analysis of cross-border transport infrastructure investments, all costs in a country are included, while eventual benefits from flows from other countries are included only to a limited degree. Several of the interviewees maintained that a common basic model which includes effects generated from other countries would not only be feasible but could also be developed at fairly low cost. A common and flexible basic model for current transport flows and making forecasts and investment calculations would allow each country to include their own national forecast and parameters in an integrated Nordic system for the calculation of impacts and costs. It would also allow the countries to accept, modify, or as today, largely neglect detailed forecasts from other countries, before taking decisions on investments in transport infrastructure. However, over time it is expected that knowledge would increase based on feedback loops from such joint simulations, as well as the actual development of the Nordic transport system in response to measures taken and other influencing factors. 
According to the interviews, cost-benefit discussions should involve not only the cross-border perspective, but also consider benefits at different territorial levels, e.g. regional, cross-border, national and Nordic benefits for different target groups, such as business sector perspectives, passenger and freight transport. It should also be considered how ongoing digitalisation can compensate for a lack of transport infrastructure, substitute for physical transportation or stimulate transport in various ways.
The financing of cross-border transport infrastructure is another important area that was frequently discussed in our interviews. The countries have varying experiences of previous financing arrangements – which have also influenced public opinion. For example, in Norway, it is possible to learn from and draw on lengthy experience of working with public concession models and tolls, while Sweden has different experiences of public-private partnerships (PPP) and scepticism is greater there. There is a potential for knowledge sharing, joint Nordic analyses and international outlooks. For example, “Stockholm-Oslo 2.55” has explored various alternative financing models. Previous experiences of existing cross-border routes, such as the Öresund Bridge, Svinesund Bridge and other Nordic agreements, could serve as examples to learn from. 
Several of the interviewees noted that the level of interest in financing cross-border transport infrastructure investments may be affected by asymmetries in the sharing of costs and benefits between countries. If the benefits are expected to be higher on the other side of the border, this may influence the interest in financing. The examples mentioned in this context are the Fehmarn Belt link, where Denmark was expected to have a stronger interest than Germany and bore a larger share of the costs, the Umskaret Tunnel near Mo i Rana, where Norway took on a larger share of the costs even though both sides benefit from the investment, and the HH link, where Sweden appears to have a stronger interest than Denmark. It could however be assumed that it is easier to reach joint agreements if cross-border projects are negotiated in baskets allowing for evening out of the total benefits and costs. 
However, it is important to note that development of both a Nordic knowledge base and joint analytical tools will be dependent on political prioritisation of Nordic transport policy and cross-border transport infrastructure planning.