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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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Geopolitics

Patronage Or Politics? What's Driving Qatar And Egypt Grand Rapprochement

For Cairo, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil,” with anger directed at Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, and others critical of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood ouster. But the vitriol is now gone, with the first ever visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi to Doha.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Emir of Qatar in June 2022 in Cairo

Beesan Kassab, Daniel O'Connell, Ehsan Salah, Hazem Tharwat and Najih Dawoud

For the first time since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi traveled to Doha last month on an official visit, a capstone in a steadily building rapprochement between the two countries in the last year.

Not long ago, however, the photo-op capturing the two heads of state smiling at one another in Doha would have seemed impossible. In the wake of the Armed Forces’ ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, Qatar and Egypt traded barbs.

In the lexicon of the intelligence-controlled Egyptian press landscape, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil” working to undermine Egypt’s stability. Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, was banned from Egypt, but, from its social media accounts and television broadcast, it regularly published salacious and insulting details about the Egyptian administration.

But all of that vitriol is now gone.

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