A project to build a canal to link Paris with major harbours of northern Europe will depend on lining up the necessary funds, the French government said on Wednesday, without saying if it believed the finance could be found.
France has long planned to build the waterway dubbed the Seine-Nord canal to allow large barges to sail from Paris to the harbours of Antwerp and Rotterdam, reducing truck traffic on its motorways.
The project has been studied for more than a decade and funding options for the 4.5 billion euro ($5.3 billion) programme have been discussed with regional governments and the European Union. The previous government had set up a project company with a view to start work on the 107 kilometre canal in 2017 and have it ready by 2023.
"The Seine-Nord Canal is a long-awaited project ... and its importance is not being put into question, but nobody can ignore that the financing has not been finalised," junior minister Brune Poirson, speaking for environment minister Nicolas Hulot and transport minister Elisabeth Borne, told parliament.
She said the philosophy of the new government of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was not to promise what cannot be financed and that infrastructure projects promised by previous governments had a funding gap of about 10 billion euros.
"We need to find pragmatic and sustainable solutions for each of these projects," Poirson said.
Besides the Seine-Nord canal, other possible transport projects include a rail tunnel under the Alps between Lyon and Turin and the extension of high-speed TGV train lines towards Toulouse and Spain.
Following the inauguration of costly TGV lines to Bordeaux and Rennes last month, Bornes has said infrastructure spending needs to focus on maintenance and modernisation of existing lines.
Heavy traffic disruption at the Montparnasse railway station early this month and a number of train accidents in recent years have been blamed on a lack of maintenance as rail company SNCF focuses investment on building high-speed lines.
Poirson said the transport ministry would organise a public consultation to investigate the needs of all France's regions and the available funding. "What will be imperative is that we bring in line the needs with the resources," she said.
($1 = 0.8519 euros)
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by David Holmes)