On December 3, 2020, the Highest Council of Ukraine (Верховна Рада України) adopted the law “On Inland Water Transport”. This fact may become a turning point in the reconstruction of the E40 waterway, which is to connect Poland, Ukraine and Belarus.
The work on the trail has been underway since the beginning of 2020. The road starts in Gdańsk and leads through the Vistula, Bug, Pripyat and Dnieper rivers to Kherson in southern Ukraine, thus connecting the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea. The trail is over 2,000 km long and it makes it the longest waterway in Europe. It was even included in the list of the most important waterways included in the “European Agreement on the Most Important Inland Waterways of International Importance”, signed in Geneva in 1996 (Ukraine joined it in 2009).
The E40 road development plans include the construction of a perimeter canal in Poland, as well as deepening works along the entire length of the route so that it can be used by large-tonnage river-sea vessels. The construction was initiated by a coalition of entities from three countries (Belarus, Poland and Ukraine), linking the Maritime Institute in Gdańsk, the Ministry of Transport of Belarus, the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine and other organisations. According to various estimates, the total cost of the works will amount from €10 to €13 billion. The Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine announced the beginning of the implementation of the project “Reconstruction of the E40 Waterway” in February 2020.
Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure Vladyslav Krykliy, shortly after taking the position in August 2019, declared that the modernization of inland waterways would be his priority. In his words, this is to be part of the process of implementing a number of directives of the association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Therefore, the law adopted by the Highest Council of Ukraine (Верховна Рада України) in early December may become a key element of the reform and be of significant importance for the future of the waterway. “Thanks to the adoption of this law, we will be able to revive the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly way of delivering goods – river transport, and create efficient river logistics” – commented minister Kryklij during the vote in the Highest Council.
What’s more, in the opinion of the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine, the adoption of the law will facilitate the admission of ships under a foreign flag to Ukrainian rivers, which will undoubtedly stimulate international trade, deregulating the industry by introducing free movement through water locks, partial exemption of inland navigation from fees in sea ports and simplification of administrative procedures when registering units, issuing qualification documents, etc. This act announces the introduction of regulations and simplifications necessary for the launch of the international waterway E40.
The fact of cross-party support for the mentioned law also remains important. Not only representatives of the ruling Servant of the People party (Слуга народу) voted for its adoption, but also members of the opposition groups: European Solidarity, For the Future and Vote. This creates some perspectives on this particular plane as a field for strategic and long-term cooperation with Ukraine, irrespective of possible future political deals in Kiev.
However, environmental issues may pose a problem. Already at the beginning of the talks on the renewal of the E40 waterway, a number of environmental organizations protested against the project, seeing it as a threat to the environment. These included the “Save Polesie” (Ratuj Polesie) coalition and the “Stop E40” campaign. Moreover, the International Atomic Energy Agency recommended the suspension of works due to the fact that the route runs in the vicinity of nuclear power plants (in some places even less than 10 km). Another problem is the position of the Belarusian authorities on the project. At the end of 2017, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus, Andrej Chudyk, stated that international corporations saw interest in the E40 waterway project, and therefore Minsk would defend nature and ecological safety. Moreover, in the situation of suspension of Poland’s and Ukraine’s interstate relations with Belarus, the prospects and possibilities for such a wide-ranging interstate cooperation that would have to arise in this project, unfortunately remain rather questionable.