The two most frequently carried commodities are agricultural products (28%), and Building materials (24%). One of the complications of studying European transport systems is the lack of standardization in terminology, or even languages, but there are umbrella organisations, often funded by the European Union who publish overviews in English. The Inland Navigation Europe is just such a body and they provide these illustrations. There are six, or in some countries seven, class categories which apply to the various sections of waterway and the INE, based in Brussels, describes them as follows:
Over the centuries a number of different traditions have built up, with a variety of standards and measurements. In order to exploit this network the fleet is therefore correspondingly varied, with different types of vessels designed to operate on the various waterway sections, ranging from the smaller vessels of the canal systems in the north to the very large Rhine push convoys. An overview is provided here:
The map shows that there is a concentration of river and canal connections around Paris, and heading out from there to the north and west, where there are internationally connected sea ports. The two great arteries of the Seine and the Rhine provide the backbones of the French system, but there has been extensive work to connect up distant provinces to the capital. France has over 18,000 kilometers of waterways and at the present time over 8,500 kilometers are navigable.
In the past the development of the network has been hindered because of the fragmentation of its management into different local and national ownership arrangements. In November 2004 a ways and means contract was signed (running from 2005 to 2008) between the French government and the VNF (Voies Navigables de France – French waterways authority) to enable a more targeted management and development which meets both national and local needs. Part of this