EU & waterway transport


Inland Waterway Transport Agenda for Europe (2021-2027)
Inland waterway transport is set to fulfil an important role in reaching Green Deal targets, both in terms of modal shift and green transport. An essential EU policy coordination tool is the EU’s NAIADES action programme. Over its past two iterations, the programme has proved to be essential in supporting IWT development between the EU and the national level. It has even attracted previously less active Member States to start developing their waterways. This is why the NAIADES programme needs to be continued after 2020 and strengthened on top of horizontal strategies. The next period 2021-2027 will be a crucial period to effectively prepare inland waterway transport with the right policy framework into a climate-neutral, climate resilient, clean and smart transport mode so it will be the ‘incontournable’ option to help beat congestion and reach EU transport & climate goals.

INE organised a stakeholder workshop in September 2019 gathering all members of the Naiades expert group, representatives from the European Commission, Member States, River Commissions and private stakeholders to prepare recommendations for actions to match the challenges ahead. The input of the interactive brainstorming workshop resulted in a Strategic Inland Waterway Transport agenda for Europe (2021-2027). The agenda sets out recommendations and a roadmap with actions, which was adopted by the NAIADES II Expert group meeting in December 2019. The Commission has been invited to use it as a blueprint for the Naiades III action plan which Parliament and Council have asked to publish before the end of 2020.

Why is NAIADES important?

  • It is the EU waterway transport policy aiming for a better use of inland shipping to relieve heavily congested transport corridors.
  • It is the EU action programme to develop waterway transport. The 1st Naiades programme ran from 2006 until 2013. The 2nd runs now from 2014 until 2020.
  • Waterway transport is also supported through the funding and financing programmes Connecting Europe Facility, Horizon2020, LIFE and the EU Structural and Investment Funds.

The EU Green Deal
The new von der Leyen Commission entered office in the beginning of December 2019 and within the same month, the European Green Deal was published. The Green Deal aims at giving a strong boost to multimodal transport to increase the efficiency of the transport system. Shifting a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried today by road onto rail and inland waterways is a matter of priority. The EU transport system must also be made fit and smart to enable automated and connected multimodal mobility and logistics in order to reduce congestion and pollution, including in urban areas. Moreover, all transport modes, including waterway transport, have to contribute to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Last but not least, the Green Deal refers to climate change adaptation which is in particular relevant to inland waterway transport since its modal shift potential relies on successful climate change proofing.


Why are the HORIZON programmes important?

  • HORIZON2020 is the current EU programme which supports research as well as innovation pilots, pre-normative research and coordination actions.
  • It co-finances research inter alia into transport, digitalisation, climate change and decarbonisation including for waterway transport. It supports inland waterways to invest in cross-sector and cross-border innovation
  • The Horizon2020 programme ends in 2020 and will be followed by the HorizonEurope programme (2021-2027) with the largest ever budget.

Towards a new research and innovation programme
Horizon Europe will be the new research and innovation programme (2021-2027). For the first time, climate, energy and mobility will be in the same research cluster. INE hopes this will enable room for synergies as all 3 topics are important for future proof inland navigation as laid down in the Strategic Research Agenda for Inland Waterways and Ports. Waterborne transport will receive its first dedicated partnership thanks to the coordinated effort of the EU Waterborne Technology Platform. The candidate partnership will in the first instance support the innovation effort towards zero emission waterborne transport. INE pleads in addition for dedicated research topics for smart and climate proof waterway infrastructure.


Ongoing Innovation projects
Green & circular economy at work
Green & smart logistics at work



Key messages


  • Good Navigation Status on cross-border network & service levels: quality performance approach covering physical, digital and green energy infrastructure. Capacity will be increased where necessary, but the underlying focus of such upgrades will be to improve the overall quality and performance of the infrastructure in order to ensure continuity, safety, reliability and innovation of the network across borders.
  • Integration of climate resilience measures in TEN-T and integration of waterway transport in EU Climate Adaptation Strategy. As the average temperature increases, waterborne transport, of all transport modes, will be impacted significantly. Lower-water levels will transform inland waterway transport requiring measures to support climate resilient infrastructure, better information, changing logistics and fleet operations in coordination with other sectors.


  • EU Digital and automation roadmap for inland waterway transport encompassing river information services, e-tools, inland navigation databases and cybersecurity fitting into Digital Europe.
  • Removal of legal barriers for roll-out smart & connected shipping.


  • EU Emission reduction strategy with binding targets for GHG and pollution.
  • Removal of barriers for roll-out of carrying and running on alternative fuels.
  • Goal-based & innovation-rewarding regulation with high safety standards.


  • Future proof framework for manning requirements.
  • Future proof training and lifelong learning strategy linked to EU Education Area.

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