Infrastructure plays a determinant role in the competition conditions enjoyed by the various modes of transport. Through its choice of means of communication, the State determines the expansion and link up possibilities of the various modes of transport. Transport undertakings are dependent upon the infrastructure, which they use, in as last amended by much as decisions on its construction and maintenance are taken by governments. However, transport users are usually not obliged to pay the full cost of the infrastructures that they use. This is particularly true of road infrastructures and has contributed to the phenomenal expansion of road transport. In other respects, transport networks having been designed largely from a national point of view, there were in post-war Europe many missing links, bottlenecks and obstacles to inter-operability between national networks. Moreover, whereas the central regions of the European Community suffered from a growing congestion and had to bear a disproportionate burden of the costs of cross-frontier traffic, there was an under-investment in peripheral areas contributing to their economic underdevelopment.
The EEC Treaty did not give the European institutions any powers in this field. However, at the instigation of the Commission, a consultation procedure and a Transport Infrastructure Committee were established in the late 1970s and improved over time. This procedure enabled better planning at national level both as regards time scale and geographical aspects. In addition, the European Investment Bank and the Structural Funds have much helped the financing of infrastructures. But the overall infrastructure deficit of the EC/EU has increased with the accession of peripheral States. This is why, Article 171 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU (ex Article 155 TEC) calls for a series of guidelines covering the objectives, priorities and broad lines of measures envisaged in the sphere of trans-European networks. These networks are not only necessary in order to complete the internal market, improve the links between the European regions, avoid traffic congestions, reduce environment pollution and improve the competitiveness of European industries, but they can also enliven the European economy through the realisation of very big projects and thus contribute to its growth [see section 6.8]. The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) determines the conditions, methods and procedures for providing Union financial assistance to trans-European networks in order to support projects of common interest in the sectors of transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructures [Regulation 1316/2013, last amended by Regulation 2016/1649]. Concerning trans-European transport networks (TEN-T) the goal is not so much the improvement of transport infrastructure in general but the integration of the EU's transport system through the completion and combination of its networks, taking particular account of its more geographically isolated regions [Regulation 1315/2013].
The Council has adopted the master plans on the high-speed rail, the combined transport, the road and inland waterway networks. These master plans, which are indicative in nature and do not entail any financial commitments on the part of any Member State or the Union, aim at supplying the missing links between national networks, making them technically compatible and opening up the EU's isolated regions. European guidelines set the specific objectives of ensuring the sustainable mobility of persons and goods under the best possible social, environmental and safety conditions and integrating all modes of transport, taking account of their comparative advantages [Regulation 1315/2013]. These guidelines set out a precise but flexible framework for action for the national and regional authorities and serve as a reference for European intervention. A Directive on road infrastructure safety management aims to ensure that safety is integrated into all phases of planning, design, operation and use of the road infrastructure across the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) [Directive 2008/96].
A Commission White Paper entitled "Fair payment for infrastructure use" recommends the gradual harmonisation of infrastructure charging systems based on the "user pays" principle, according to which all users of transport infrastructure would have to pay for all the costs they generate, including environmental costs [COM/98/466]. A first measure in this sense is the creation of a European electronic road toll service, which aims to secure the interoperability of toll systems in the internal market and to contribute to the elaboration of infrastructure charging policies at European level, making it possible to fund, in part, new infrastructure and to ensure a better traffic flow on the main routes of the trans-European network [Directive 2004/52].