Article 58 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU (ex Article 51 TEC) makes the provision of services in the transport sector dependent on the special clauses of the title relating to transport. Article 91 of TFEU (ex Article 71 TEC) stipulates that the common policy should take into account the "distinctive features" of (inland) transport sector. At the outset, these distinctive features were based on the facts: (a) that transport undertakings were dependent upon infrastructure decided and built by the States; (b) that in general, competition took place between large State controlled railway monopolies and a multitude of small road haulage and inland waterway transport operators; (c) that the State required certain undertakings, notably the railways, to fulfil public service obligations, which distort competition conditions; and (d) that supply and demand were extremely rigid in this sector.
The Treaty of Rome and its successors, the Treaty establishing the European Community and now the Treaty on the functioning of the EU, show special interest in the transport sector for several reasons. First of all, economic integration was expected to lead to growth in trade and consequently in transport flows. The EEC Treaty therefore saw the transport sector as one of the major motors of economic integration. On its side, the healthy operation of the transport sector depended to a large extent on healthy trade and business in the Community.
Secondly, transport costs, which put a serious strain on the cost price of certain goods, could act as a barrier to trade or a source of discrimination between European businesses of various nationalities. At the outset, the situation was most complex in the road transport sector, which represents 80% of goods carriage between the Member States. Depending on the routes, international road traffic was either restriction free or subject to prior authorisation or to the granting of authorisations in the framework of a quota. Authorisation issuing provisions (length of validity, possibility of return trip loaded, etc.) varied from one route to the next. The conditions governing Community transit differed from one State to the next and provisions relating to combined rail/road transport were practically non-existent. It is obvious that all this had to be changed in order to create a common market for transport.
Infrastructure choices for means of communication, their construction and use have considerable impact on regional development, the environment, town and country planning, traffic safety and energy consumption. Coordination of investment decisions can eliminate the risk of works whose socio-economic profitability is not sufficient and can open the way to the economies of scale offered by the wider internal market. The provisions of the TEC (and now of the TFEU) on trans-European networks and economic and social cohesion provide a new basis for the Community to devise a strategy for the development of transport infrastructure. This strategy should allow, amongst other things, the less favoured peripheral regions of the Union to take full advantage of the opportunities which stem from the completion of the internal market.
Nowadays, the priority in the transport sector is moving towards building modern infrastructures and, in particular, trans-European networks, which help complete the internal market by reinforcing the links between the Member States [see section 6.8]. These networks also permit: better, safer travel at lower cost, thus improving both industrial competitiveness and quality of life; effective planning in Europe, thus avoiding a concentration of wealth and population; and bridge-building towards Central and Eastern European countries, which is essential in view of their integration into the Union. Building trans-European transport networks requires Union action to coordinate the various national activities and so complete the internal market and facilitate interconnection and interoperability in the transport sector.
The continuing integration of the economies of the Member States necessarily entails increased transport movements across frontiers and places new challenges for the European transport policy. Thus, in addition to the consolidation of the internal market in transport, the Treaty of Amsterdam set two new objectives for the common transport policy: transport safety and environment protection. Article 91 of the TFEU (ex Article 71 TEC) declares that transport safety is one of the objectives to be attained by the transport policy. Safety requirements may fall within the area of the Union's exclusive powers, for example, because they affect the free circulation of vehicles or transport services. In other cases, in application of the subsidiarity principle [see section 3.2], transport safety is a matter which should be addressed by the Community when it is in a position to act usefully.
All power-driven transport means consume energy and cause air, soil, water or marine pollution. Most polluting for the environment is road transport, which consumes over 80% of the total final energy used in the transport sector and contributes over 75% to its total CO2 emissions. To reduce pollution caused by the transport sector, it is essential in this sector, as in that of energy, to: set progressively higher standards for gaseous emissions; incorporate into the transport prices the cost of transport, namely road, infrastructure; and internalise the external costs of pollution by means of financial and fiscal instruments, such as the tax on CO2. Those measures which, in addition to environmental protection, would facilitate road decongestion and increase transport safety, would, however, have a direct impact on the competitive position of transport systems and operators. For this reason, the Intelligent Energy – Europe Programme, which was part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (2007-2013) [Decision 1639/2006, see section 17.1.3], financed, inter alia, actions promoting energy efficiency and the use of new and renewable energy sources in transport (STEER), such as: (a) supporting initiatives relating to all energy aspects of transport, and the diversification of fuels; (b) promoting renewable fuels and energy efficiency in transport; and(c) supporting the preparation of legislative measures and their application.
It is worth bearing in mind that transport and communications are in themselves a major economic sector. Transport is an industry of the future whose main growth factors are: structural changes in the manufacturing industry, which is transferring its production sites from urban areas to new industrial sites; the evolution of production methods, which encourages stock reduction and more flexible, more varied and more rapid delivery systems; the increasing importance of the services sector and the dispersion of its activities to multiple sites, which stimulates professional mobility; the increase in income levels and the evolution of demographic structures, which boosts demand for leisure, tourism and family reunions. The transport sector involves 40% of public investment in the Member States. Investments, whether they originate from the public sector (construction of transport infrastructure) or from the private one (all kinds of means of transport), indisputably affect employment in the industrial sector. Moreover, the testing of technological innovations in the transport sector (aircraft, high-speed trains, underwater tunnels, etc.) stimulates innovation in industry in general.