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Why Old Europe Needs A New Approach To Infrastructure

It's time to overhaul the Old Continent's roads, bridges, airports and electrical systems. And like it or not, private investment has a role to play.

Vintage car (and road)
Vintage car (and road)
David Barroux

-OpEd-

PARIS With its crumbling roads, deteriorating railroads and undersized telecommunication networks, the Old Continent has never been more aptly named.

Indeed, on various fronts and in many different European countries, much of our key infrastructure is looking downright haggard. And according to experts, the situation is unlikely to improve. If European countries don't start to invest heavily, they could, for instance, face a significant airport capacity deficit in a few years.

At a time when former developing nations are making major public investments precisely so that they can drop their "third world" label Europe seems like it longer can or wants to shell out money on infrastructure worthy of its standards. The roads, bridges and wires that connect Europe's people, businesses and cities barely cut it any more. And we know why. Indebted and weakened by years of crisis, European countries have relied on post-war infrastructure and facilities dating back to the "50s and "60s.

Renewed investment in major infrastructure will inevitably depend on sharing the burden.

In too many sectors, rather than reinvest, we did the bare minimum to maintain it. Further complicating matters are vocal minorities who manage to mobilize against tunnels, airports or power stations, and ultimately make enough noise to derail them. More than one much-needed public works project has been nipped in the bud this way.

Unfortunately, politicians who are elected for short terms are often reluctant to fight for expensive projects that risk being completed once those who authorize spending have already left the scene. But to properly cope with growth — and the changing needs and demographic dynamism driving it — we'll need to make serious efforts again.

Disused railway in Paris — Photo: Céline Harrand

Between the CDG Express, a planned project to connect Charles de Gaulle Airport and central Paris by rail, and the Grand Paris, a huge metro and jail expansion project, France (among others) has shown that inaction is not necessarily the rule. Europe needs more large-scale investment along these lines while avoiding the temptation to approve "white elephant" projects that only serve to satisfy the egos of certain elected officials.

That may also mean bringing private investors on board. Public-private partnerships are controversial, as evidenced by motorway privatization in France. But at a time when states are fiscally limited, as is the ability of tax payers to contribute even more, renewed investment in major infrastructure will inevitably depend on sharing the burden, including with private entities. Our quality of life and Europe's competitiveness depend on it.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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