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exploring the international dimensions of infrastructures

Exploring the international dimensions of infrastructures

As the euro crisis is making daily headlines, European integration has taken centre stage, though perhaps not in the way the European institutions would like the topic to reach European audiences.

Johan Schot (projectleider)
Irene Anastasiadou
Hans Buiter
Vincent Lagendijk
Frank Schipper
Erik van der Vleuten

"Exploring the International Dimensions of Infrastructures: A Historical Perspective"

As the euro crisis is making daily headlines, European integration has taken centre stage, though perhaps not in the way the European institutions would like the topic to reach European audiences. As institutions are struggling to attend to the monetary troubles, other policy dossiers proceed quietly ahead. Thus investment in and extension of the Trans-European Networks, the EU’s ambitious agenda to get infrastructures in shape for the 21st century, steadily continues mostly irrespective of the financial wobbles.

EU efforts in the infrastructure realm build on a long legacy. Since the mid-19th century, and particularly after the Second World War, an astonishing number of organizations has obtained a mandate to deal with infrastructures in Europe. Their infrastructure decisions represented specific views on how to shape the future of Europe. The EU, negotiating its infrastructure policies today, needs to take the multiple legacies into account. It cannot forge new governance structures from scratch, and attempts to do so will be strongly resisted by existing policy networks.

Sometimes older legacies clash with new EU initiatives. Thus recent transnational electricity blackouts exposed opposed interpretations of Europe’s electricity infrastructure. To EU policy makers the blackouts revealed the fragility of Europe’s power grids and the need to centralize governance. To the power sector, they confirmed the reliability of transnational power grids and the traditional decentralized governance model: the disturbances were quickly contained and repaired. Electricity sector experts had been building up the latter model since the interwar years.

To an extent such differences in vision relate to differences in background of the individuals involved. Investigating the role of experts in shaping European transport policies in the 1940s-50s revealed their specific understanding of how to work together on the international level. Their methods clashed with the idea of creating a High Authority of independent experts without intimate knowledge of transport. Experts formed a policy network that coordinated the work of a number of international organizations and successfully resisted a new transport regime in which they would have been sidelined.

Such historical insights contain important hints of the future. Infrastructures have long legacies by definition. As material structures they have very long lives. Though more changeable, infrastructure governance can equally have a long lifespan. As a result, infrastructure decisions taken decades ago can have profound impact on infrastructure realities today. This implies that similar decisions taken today continue to have an impact for decades to come. Decision-makers should reflect on such path-dependencies when designing Europe’s current infrastructure policies. What is clear is that the European dimension will stick around for the foreseeable future. Though many infrastructures have a local and national legacy and focus, they are also importantly shaped by transnational dynamics. Policy-making should take into account the dynamics at these spatial levels, their entanglements, and the coordination, tensions and contestations between them. As this has been a continuing theme throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, it will equally play a role in the 21st.

Technische Universiteit Eindhoven
Understanding complex networks
De infrastructuur doet de grens vervagen artikel vakblad
Experts and European Transport Integration 1945-1958 artikel vakblad
Infrastructural Europeanism, or the project of building Europe on infrastructures: an introduction artikel vakblad
Interpreting transnational infrastructure vulnerability: European blackout and the historical dynamics of transnational electricity governance artikel vakblad
Trans-European Network Development and Governance in Historical Perspective artikel vakblad
Transnational infrastructure vulnerability: The historical shaping of the 2006 European “Blackout” artikel vakblad

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