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Entrepreneur's tunnel plans too optimistic, EU transport director thinks

Henrik Hololei.
Henrik Hololei. Source: (Siim Lõvi /ERR)

Planning and building an undersea tunnel between Tallinn and Helsinki isn't quite as easy as enthusiasts like Peter Vesterbacka like to think, warns the European Commission's director-general for mobility and transport, Henrik Hololei.

Hololei told ERR that the idea of the tunnel is no doubt interesting, and that the European Commission is open to any new idea regarding better transport connections. Personally, he likes the idea as well, he said, though in this case as well as everywhere else, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

"Experience with the Channel Tunnel shows that such projects are incredibly complex and end up with substantially higher costs than planned at the beginning," Hololei said, though he granted that technology is developing all the time.

Finnish entrepreneur Peter Vesterbacka, formerly of Angry Birds developer Rovio, said at the presentation of his own tunnel project in Tallinn last week that it could be done at a cost of €15 billion, and that funding could be had from Chinese investors up to 70 percent, with the remainder coming from pension funds in the Baltic and Nordic area.

Contrary to Vesterbacka, Hololei tends to be skeptical of third-country investors for long-term projects.

"I'll remind you that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I think it's necessary to stress as well that all large infrastructure projects have to be based on the rules of the European Union, and open to everyone," Hololei said.

From the point of view of an EU contribution to the Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel, the union's priority are transport bottlenecks as well as building cross-border connections where there currently aren't any, as with the Rail Baltica project that will connect the Baltic states to the European railway network.

"There's a ferry connection between Helsinki and Tallinn today that works well, and a tunnel would be a nice addition rather than an absolute necessity. In the planning of the tunnel, it's important to include passenger as well as freight transport, and that the two main airports are connected," Hololei commented on the European Commission's view of the project.

Asked about another idea recently floated by businessmen, Raivo Hein's project of a bridge between the Estonian mainland and the island of Saaremaa, Hololei said that this was more realistic. "If the Estonian state makes it a priority, then a partial contribution out of European Union funds should be possible as well," Hololei said.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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