Cristina Catalina, European Projects Manager at Zabala France, explains the key elements of the CEF Transport program that aims to modernise European transport networks
Developing and modernising trans-European transport networks, boosting decarbonisation in Europe and promoting synergies between several sectors are the three principles on which Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) Transport, the funding instrument that aims to implement European transport infrastructure policy, is based. “It isn’t always easy to obtain funding from this programme, because it’s rather complex,” explains Cristina Catalina, European Projects Manager at Zabala France, revealing the ins and outs of the programme.
What exactly is CEF Transport?
CEF Transport is part of CEF, whose other two components are Energy and Telecoms (digital services). Its predecessor was the TEN-T programme, followed by the first call for CEF Transport projects between 2014 and 2020. The current edition, with a budget of €25.8 billion, will run, like the previous one, for seven years, until 2027.
What is its purpose?
CEF Transport aims to support investments in the construction of new transport infrastructures in Europe, as well as the rehabilitation and modernisation of existing ones. The decarbonisation of Europe is promoted through this network.
What are its characteristics?
The most important, in my opinion, is the fact that there is a very first stage in which the European Commission, together with the various Member States, establishes the infrastructures or key points to be developed in each country. This is an essential element to be considered, in order to know if the project is one of these priorities. In any case, if the project does not fit into these, it could possibly be eligible in one of the themes of the program.
This is why, before submitting a project, the project leader must first discuss it with the Member State or the Member States in which it is to be implemented (there are cross-border actions that cover several territories, for which support must be obtained). When submitting a project, the agreement of the related Member States must be included. Before sending the proposal to the European Commission, they can ask questions to the leading organisation and request modifications. This is an important difference compared with other funding programmes, such as Horizon Europe.
It seems like only entities of a certain size can apply, doesn’t it?
CEF Transport is not reserved just for large organisations, but it is open to all those who are in a position to develop and improve transport infrastructure at a European level. In the case of the railway sector, for example, the company that manages the national railroad service could be a good candidate, as could a smaller company that lays tracks or power lines. In addition, the projects can be carried out by a single entity or by several entities through a partnership.
As in all European programmes, in CEF Transport, there are specific topics or priorities. What are they?
In general terms, the program covers actions on trans-European infrastructure networks in all modes of rail, maritime and inland waterway and road transport. Nonetheless, there are also other calls that are structured in themes that pursue specific objectives to promote smart and interoperable mobility, sustainable and multimodal mobility, safe mobility, and, as a novelty in this edition, military mobility, that is, the use of both civil and military infrastructure.
What is the level of funding?
There are two types of projects. Studies receive funding up to 50% of eligible costs, but this rate drops to 30% in the case of works. However, in some specific cases, these rates can be as high as 70% in cross-border actions or in disconnected territories, and up to 85% in countries with cohesion funds, both if it is a study and if the project in question is a work.
Important exceptions are projects for the deployment of alternative fuel recharge infrastructures (electric, LNG or hydrogen), where financing can be for unit costs or a percentage between 10% and 30%. These projects must also have a loan of at least 10% of the investment.
What costs are eligible?
Mainly those related to investments and subcontracting (tenders for civil works or deployment of facilities), expenses of own personnel and equipment, as well as third-party studies (work projects, cost-benefit analysis studies and environmental impact studies, among others).
What advice would you give to a company expressing interest in this call for projects?
The first basic tip is to go to the TENtec interactive online map, where it is possible to check if the project fits into the European Commission’s and Member States’ priorities. After that, you will have to identify the topic within the CEF Transport call for projects.
The second step would be to establish a dialogue with the Member State, through its representatives on the TEN-T Network Commission.
How can Zabala Innovation help an organisation interested in CEF Transport?
We are very familiar with the procedures related to this funding instrument and we can accompany organisations from the very first stage of project identification to its execution. Sometimes, the procedures aren’t apparent for everyone, because in CEF Transport there are many elements to consider. For example, not only do you have to contact the representatives of the corresponding Member State, which is something we can do, but you also must pay attention to the fact that each Member State can set its own deadlines, beyond the general deadlines of the call for projects.
Can you tell us in which projects Zabala Innovation is involved, related to CEF Transport?
Over the 2014-2021 period, we managed to finance 19 projects in various fields (road, maritime and rail). In the last call for alternative fuel infrastructure projects, we obtained funding for the seven projects we presented, which represents 16% of the projects funded in Europe.
In the port infrastructures sector, we are involved in two projects, one in the Port of Santander and the other in the Port of Bilbao (Spain), that aim to develop a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tank. In addition, we are also working in two projects related to secure parking for trucks along the EU’s Atlantic corridor. Other major projects, in which we have been involved, are setting up charging points for electric vehicles in various countries and cities, promoting multimodal transport.