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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 27:121–133.


The Direction of Development in Trans-European Traffic Axes and its Impact on the Spatial Structure of the Balkans


The Transport Geographical Situation, Position and Conditions for Crossing the Balkans

The Balkan region constitutes a periphery of geography, economy and traffic (Figure 1), but at the same time it is also an intercontinental, Oriental link.

Crossing the Balkans today depends on the serviceability of international transport corridors affected by the configuration of terrain and political circumstances. The majority of the region is not ’transport friendly’ due to the unfavourable relief of the terrain. The situation is aggravated by socio-economic backwardness, regional interests and the multitude of conflicts. As a result, the majority of the region is characterised by poor transport conditions.

In WWII the opposing sides assessed the unfavourable topographic conditions of the Balkans that was of secondary significance as a front differently from the angle of armoured military operations. Guderian, the German General, wrote: “Compared to the scale of the military operations in which we engaged we did not suffer greater losses in any other fronts in terms of armoured divisions and tanks than we did in the scarcely passable Balkans.”

Churchill, however, held that, “If Hannibal could cross the Alps with elephants the Balkans cannot pose an obstacle for our Shermans.”


The Historical Role of the Balkans in European Traffic

The following constitutes the possible functions which the Balkans may fulfil within the European traffic network system:

– A hub: can obtain an insignificant role, important neither in terms of land nor air transport

– A gateway: can obtain a tertiary role; the North Sea Range megaports, i.e. Le Havre – Antwerp – Rotterdam and Amsterdam – Bremen – Hamburg, have an overwhelming advantage over the limited hinterland and region of gravity of, for example, Rijeka/Koper, Thessalonica, Constanţa

– A transit area: of major importance within a Europe – Asia Minor / Near East context, but essentially confined to just one single corridor running north-west to south-east linked to the secondary corridors joining the Carpathian Basin running in a north – south and north-east – south-west direction.

This transit role is of political, military and economic importance.

External power- and economic interests have exerted a decisive influence on this historical transit role. Under the Roman Empire the east–west axis (Via Appia-Adria), the so-called ’Via Egnatia’, was formed across the Southern Balkans. In the 16th–17th centuries, under the Ottoman Empire, the Istanbul–Niš–Belgrade war path ran across the Balkan area towards the Carpathian Basin; in contrast to which, in the final third of the 19th century, the Thessalonica–Kosovska Mitrovica (Sarajevo) railway line towards Bosnia, then the westernmost Ottoman province fulfilled the role of a supply line for reinforcements and maintaining power, although its entire length was not completed. The British and the Germans tended towards concepts of a trans-Eurasian railway, in line with the Porte plans. From a geo-strategic perspective the Eastern Balkans took on increasing relevance rather for the Germans though with their later Drang nach Osten (eastward expansion) policy and the Baghdad railway.

The Suez Canal played an orienting role, for the British were interested in the gateway of Thessalonica

Following the Congress of Berlin the Belgrade–Niš–Sofia–Istanbul and Niš–Skopje–Thessalonica railway line was constructed (Figure 2).

A direct rail link with the inner, Southern Slavic Balkan region would have been a key requirement for the realisation of Russia’s pan-Slavic policy, but prior to WWI no economic funds were available for such purposes.

Within the (synthetic state) of inter-war Yugoslavia the north-west – south-east international transit axis assumed a role in strengthening domestic cohesion. The years between 1940 and 1950 were characterised by strong political divisiveness and this transit function ceased. In the 1970s, the ’benign dictatorships’, at the instigation of Poland and Hungary, created the north – south trans-European Motorway Plan (TEM), part of which was conceived as the construction of Yugoslav clearways (Figure 3).

The TEN/PEN/TINA Networks
as the Main Pillars of Community Policy

1. Europe’s modern-day transport network was shaped under the influence of national interests, endeavours of separation as a thrown-together aggregate country network in which the interests of Europe as a whole did not prevail and which was characterised by the lack of inter-operability and compatibility.

2. The European Community, and European Union are characterised by the contradiction between a unified market demanding an interoperable infrastructural system and traffic system which is not harmonised.

Conditions for crossing and interoperability, both aspects of cohesion policy; sustainability which demands a high-standard, modern energy and environment policy; and a more balanced regional growth, as part of the regional policy, have all become necessary in the interests of making Europe more effective and more competitive within the global market.

A linear, sustainable, environment friendly infrastructural system is required in order to create a more competitive, coherent and balanced Europe.


3. The Trans-European Networks (TEN), the development of a linear infrastructure for an integrated system of routes (national trunk route networks) on a European scale. The principal considerations for development are that it should take place within a technologically and operationally unified system; be in compliance with guiding principles of subsidiarity; it should concentrate on the corridors connecting countries and capital cities; and should give preference to high performance, environment friendly means of transport, such as electrified railways, sea and inland water navigation.


4. Pan-European Networks (PEN) and TINA networks in the eastern half of Europe (1994: 9 Crete corridors; 1997: 10 Helsinki primary corridors and a number of subsidiary corridors). Following the cessation of hostilities in the Balkan war, the network was completed with the north-west – south-east, in addition to the north–south X and Vc corridors cutting across the Balkans.

Among the ten corridors, four primary corridors, namely V, IV, IX and X, (and a number of subsidiary corridors) start far away and end at Balkan seaports; the lower stretch of the Danube as an inland water navigation axis creates a link with the Black Sea – all of which promote dependence on Western and Central Europe. There is only one single South Balkan corridor that starts and ends within the Balkans (Figure 4).

An overwhelming majority of the corridors radiate from Budapest and extend into the Balkans – the road from South-Eastern Europe leading to Western Europe both figuratively and literally crosses the Carpathian Basin, i.e. Hungary. The radial corridors then subdivide further within the Balkans, and from another direction over Eastern Europe and Austria, linking up to create hubs in the Balkan capital cities, those of less significance linking up in certain larger economic centres.

It is the task of the affected countries to finance the TEN, with the EU only accounting for between 2–4% of non-member countries’ costs. New Member States can count in total on between 40–60% support from the Cohesion Fund, and occasionally from the Structural Fund; the emphasis is, however, placed on private investors in private public partnership (PPP) financing constructions. The total sum of the corridor investment may not exceed 1.5% of the GDP of the given country.

According to their respective status the PEN corridors are theoretically equal; it is, however, planned that a disproportionately large 30% share of the TEN-budget will be spent on the single corridor IV, running between Berlin and Istanbul, alone. The reason given for this is that from the European Union perspective this is of extraordinary geopolitical significance, fulfilling an exceptionally important role in linking regions carrying strategically important traffic:

– Connecting the NATO/EU area with the geographically isolated NATO member Turkey and NATO/EU member Greece;

– Leading towards the European point of departure for the trans-Eurasian ’New Silk Route’;

– Creating a connection between Germany and Turkey, the latter being of overriding importance in supplying the former with labour.

Corridor IX, starting from Helsinki, crossing Russia, and Ukraine and Moldova to reach Romania, is most burdened with problems. Apparently the Vc corridor, running between Budapest and Ploče, has also ’found itself in the shade’ because, in contrast to earlier intentions, it does not fulfil the role of an ’umbilical cord’ for Bosnia-Herzegovina, linking it to Western Europe.

Sluggishness in the Development of the Corridors and Strategic Alternatives Inherent in the Networks Created

Plans appearing as priority projects on the 2003 list (Quick Start Project) of TEN-T projects involving the Balkans are merely segments which do not form a continuous, coherent network. These are:

– The Igoumenitsa–Thessalonica–Istanbul/Patras–Athens–Sofia–Budapest–Bucharest–Constanţa motorway (deadline for completion end of 2007);

– The Athens–Sofia (Budapest–Vienna–Prague–Nuremberg–Dresden) railway axis;

– The ’sea highways’, i.e. sea shipping lines carrying trucks (without offering defined services);

– Substantially improved navigability of the Danube, mostly by ’channel dredging’.

According to PEN documents, the full length of the railways should be electrified and made capable of bearing large axis pressure and for the most part should be developed into two-line tracks, while the main trunk roads have to be developed into clearways (predominantly motorways) by 2010. Great differences currently exist in the level of development (relatively speaking, the best developed is Xa/Xb as well as the final stretch of IVa, but as yet there is hardly anything to see of corridors VIII and IX) and all in all the degree of completion that the Balkan corridor network currently enjoys stands at no more than 30–40%. It is more than doubtful whether they will be completed in time.

Significant differences can be evidenced between the practice of the Balkan countries and the EU directives on traffic policy with regard to the scale of railway and motorway development. The European Union, paying great attention to environmental aspects, gives priority to the development of electrified railways and waterways, while in light of the extremely backward road network in comparison to Western Europe, and the resultant economic losses, the countries of South-Eastern Europe have concentrated on the construction of motorways and clearways, and essentially link the larger scale railway developments to gaining access to Union resources. While among the corridors themselves the greatest shortfall is precisely in the technical standard of the railways, they are building motorways which do not belong to the corridors (for example, the Northern Transylvanian motorway or the Dalmatian coastal railway all the way down to Greece).

The Balkan network is being built within a structure that the inherent strategic alternatives should in any case ensure a transport connection with the EU core regions. In peace time, connections would ideally be maintained and accessed by means of the Central and Northern Balkans, the Carpathian Basin and corridors running south–north, as well as south-east and north-west. The extremely expensive, high-speed railway construction in Greece should fit into this version (Figure 5). This, for the time being, is an anachronistic investment, since its continuation across the Southern Slavic regions and Hungary to the existing German network will demand an incalculable amount of time and until then, in isolation, can only serve domestic traffic. In troubled times, and in times leading up to military operations, the corridors running east–west by-passing the Southern Slavic region (Figure 6), and capable of carrying traffic to Western Europe across Italy in the south and Hungary in the north, gain a greater significance. (During the years of civil war in the 1990s, the traffic of goods between Turkey and Greece, and Western Europe could be managed mostly by means of the insertion of ferry boats between ports in Western Greece and ports in Southern Italy or the Northern Adriatic. Today, the traffic has, for the most part, again reverted to the Vardar-Morava mainland corridor but shipment combined with sea transport still remains significant.)

The effects of Corridors on Spatial and Settlement
Development and Spatial Structure

The effects of corridors on spatial and settlement development are contradictory. To a great extent they improve the conditions (in terms of capacity, quality and speed) of long-distance international traffic between capital cities, while attracting business concerns, i.e. farming, commercial and logistics enterprises, and premises, and ultimately capital and a qualified, young workforce. This is how strips or zones of land, excelling in GDP production, emerge, together with contact zones beside motorways as well as high-energy centres at intersection points of existing corridors that provide outstanding performance. At the same time, over long distances the corridors with their prevalent draining effect accelerate the emptying and dumping of the outlying peripheral rural areas, with the end result of enhancing regional differences. The differentiation processes to which these reasons may be traced back even in Western Europe worked against a regional policy striving for harmonious growth. This could, however, cause much greater tension in the Balkans, underdeveloped in every respect, lacking as they do integral civilian growth where venture capitalism and the accompanying law of “dog eat dog” serve to create extreme social relations at all regional levels. The ’tunnel’ effect is only reinforced by the fact that the infrastructural development is practically exhausted within the context of the construction of the corridors (principally motorways), and the secondary roads can hardly gain access to the resources necessary for their maintenance and repair. The fable of Menenius Agrippa already makes reference to the indispensability of functional harmony between the limbs and the trunk with the stomach inside. To place this classical anecdote in a transport policy context, trunk road traffic originates chiefly from subsidiary roads, and if the feeding system dries up the system it feeds will likewise waste away. Therefore, in the future, a development policy is required which places great emphasis on the construction of a modern subsidiary road and also a partly subsidiary railway network, in addition to implementing measures to slow the growing volume of long-distance traffic, such as strengthening the local economy and society, and to base on local sources.

By reason of the differences in density of network, in addition to the differences in the intensity of traffic and in the significance of connections thereby created, the construction of the corridors influences to varying extent the economic growth and demographic conditions of the larger regions. The most extensive regions lying away from the corridors are the Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian highland regions of the Western and Central Balkans, as well as Transylvania. All indications point to the fact that – under peaceful conditions – the most dynamic corridor will be the one running north-west – south-east which today already strings together the relatively most developed capital city agglomerations of Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia and Istanbul. Though the intensity of traffic (in annual average) of the twin corridors V and Vb to the north-east and terminating at the Northern Adriatic ports lag behind only to an extent not reaching scale, due to their short length their effect may only be asserted over comparatively small areas.

The fundamental characteristics of the Balkan regional structure were shaped several centuries earlier and as such the corridor network for a good time to come will not be capable of changing them; then again, as time passes, when the other corridors have been built and intra-Balkan economic and cultural relations, as well as those enjoyed with the Eastern Slavic countries will be much stronger than those of today, the corridor network will become functionally more balanced. The principal beneficiaries of the network’s completion may be Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and Bulgaria.

Today the stretch of corridor Vc (leading to Ploče in Croatia via Osijek and Sarajevo) between the Drava and the sea has not been built at all. In Helsinki this corridor was included into the PEN network with the intention of creating a connection with Western Europe across Hungary for the isolated Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to experience, however, the several hundred thousand guest workers, and their twice as many family members, employed in German-speaking countries, not to mention Bosnian-Herzegovinian travellers visiting Western Europe regularly for business or other purposes, travel rather in a north-western direction via Zagreb and Ljubljana than through Hungary. If, however, Hungary acquired a leading position not simply in terms of economic power but rather as one of the most important logistics centres in East Central Europe then the Vc could fulfil its intended role.

Competition among the Ports at Corridor Terminations

Just as competition among the Adriatic ports is fierce with so much at stake regarding the attraction of the southbound corridors (the Montenegrin port of Bar having also joined, though with little chance, by the railway line heading from Belgrade), so there is also much at stake among the Black Sea ports regarding the first corridor to be built, and moreover which will then serve as the European point of departure and gateway for the trans-Eurasian 'New Silk Route’. (Lajos Kossuth, albeit more than a century and a half ago, adopted the slogan, “Hungarians, to the sea!” – the choice of location finally being settled only after a fairly fierce debate when Fiume won over Constanţa. Nonetheless, even in the first years of the 21st century the poor transmission capacity of the Croatian railways and the shortcomings of the port of Fiume/Rijeka have forced Hungarian commerce to utilise distant Constanţa to a greater extent than necessarily desired to gain access to the world market.) Constanţa, as opposed to the Bulgarian ports, has the greatest chance to establish itself as the trans-Eurasian European gateway. This variant would result for Hungary in that our No. 9 transversal high-speed road running towards Western Transdanubia via Szekszárd and Kaposvár, connecting with corridor IVa from Constanţa via Bucharest to Szeged could in the future become part of the intercontinental corridor up to Western Europe and to the Iberian peninsula (Figure 6) – hence “Hungary needs Constanţa”.

The traffic value of the ports at the end of corridors has been differentiated thus far primarily in terms of their economic and traffic geography situations; i.e. the state of economic development of their respective hinterlands (and as such the volume of foreign commercial sea-borne traffic they are capable of generating); their respective distance from the largest areas capable of generating trade and turnover, and the means of mainland transport by which they are connected. In the Northern Adriatic ports and the highly developed Alpine areas which are closer to the dynamic economy of the western region of the Carpathian Basin and the Czech Republic the proportion of valuable container and international transit goods is much higher than in the Black Sea ports predominantly loading mass-produced goods. However, in the future, inland sea ports have to reckon with a comparative loss in value for at least two reasons.

One reason is the globalisation and transformation in the extensive logistics systems employed in long-distance sea trade to serve in ever growing proportions the dumping of Chinese goods (round the world, hub and spoke), as a consequence of which the open-sea Southern Italian, Southern Greek (Crete) and Maltese trans-shipment hub ports are obtaining a greater importance given their proximity to the shortest water route between the Suez Canal and the Straits of Gibraltar.

The second factor is the problem of navigating through the Bosphorus. Although this sea strait, together with the Dardanelles, constitutes an international waterway (the multilateral agreement concluded in Montreux in 1936 ensures, in peace time, the free passage of both commercial and naval ships irrespective of their country of origin), Turkey’s 10 million inhabitants of the Istanbul agglomeration have, amid environmental protection concerns, already banned the night traffic of large oil tankers. As a result traffic has become too heavy, slowing down daytime shipping to the extent that the resultant congestion on the Bosphorus has left ships on many occasions having to wait to gain entry. The oil industry in the Caucasus and Caspian environs, which is increasingly in the hands of American companies, has reacted to this by skirting the Turkish sea straits by means of pipelines (Figure 7) (Baku–Ceyhan; Burgas–Vlorë; Burgas–Alexandropoulis; Kiyiköy–Ganos).