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European infrastructure at risk from 'political disintegration'

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EUROPE - A former prime minister of Hungary has warned that infrastructure investment in European Union will wither without greater political integration.

Speaking at the sixth annual infrastructure investor summit in Berlin, Gordon Bajnai said that a more united EU would allow Brussels to take a longer-term view on infrastructure investment.

"I don't like to appear a Euro-enthusiast, but I do support integration, as it is the only tool Europe has to survive in the face of increasing global competition," he said.

"The revenge of globalisation is an older, greater and longer-lasting crisis for Europe than the financial one of the last four years."

He added that the message the financial crisis had brought to Europe was that it "only has a half-hearted, half-finished integration".

Bajnai - who was prime minister between April 2009 and May 2010 and is now the founder of Patriotism in Progress, a public policy think tank in Budapest - called on the EU to consider "Chinese-style long-termism" to ensure infrastructure projects went ahead.

"We look at China's long-term view [in regards to investing in infrastructure] and we compare it to the four-year political cycle in Europe," he said.

"To compete in Europe, we need a longer-term vision. We need high-quality, long-term consensual technocratic processes with democratic control."

Bajnai said the European Commission needed to develop further to become "the European, democratic answer to Mandarin-style governance".

He said the biggest risk in infrastructure investment - particularly for public-private partnerships - was not financial but political.

Many European governments have unveiled initiatives to launch infrastructure funds.

At the end of last year, the UK Treasury announced it would promote the creation of an infrastructure plan backed by institutional investors.

Last week, the National Association of Pension Funds and the Pension Protection Fund said the proposed infrastructure platform under development could attract 10-12 pension funds to commit £1bn (€1.2bn) in capital, with a further £1bn attracted from other schemes following the fund launch.

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