The two ministers will now write a joint letter to Mr Siim Kallas, the European Union's transport commissioner, requesting the release of Euros 642m as the EU's contribution to the first phase of the project. The agreement enables final design of the base tunnel to start.

The total cost of the new line is estimated at Euros 23.6bn and the funding split will be more balanced, with France and Italy each contributing 35% and the EU the remaining 30%.