• Has nothing been learned about justifying infrastructure?

    Editorial by Markus Liechti T&E was not alone in being concerned at the news that Jacques Barrot had set up a “high level group” to look for priority transport TENs projects with the EU’s new neighbouring states.

    A number of MEPs on the European Parliament’s transport committee reacted with surprise and disapproval to news of another TENs group to be headed by a former commissioner (this one by Loyola de Palacio). The reason for the concern is that the transport directorate DG Tren intends to apply the same procedure to the TEN-T extensions as it did with the TENs within the EU.

    Then the high-level group was chaired by the former transport commissioner, Karel van Miert, with a severe lack of stakeholder consultation. Now de Palacio is doing the same job with the 26 new border states. In effect, both have been charged with drawing up a “wishlist” of schemes, without any clear guidelines on what the criteria should be for judging the legitimacy of the schemes on economic, social and environmental criteria. The members of the group are all transport ministers, with the international financing institutions as observers. Therefore the objections we raised to the TENs priority projects – which we summarised with the slogan “more double-checks, fewer blank cheques” – have the same validity this time round.

    In fact maybe more validity. The application of European law in the new neighbouring countries is much less advanced than within the EU. For example, the Ukrainian government recently presented a “Strategic Environmental Assessment” for the construction of the Bystroye shipping canal, which it intends to have cutting across the core zone of the Danube Delta biosphere reserve. Ukraine wants this to become one of de Palacio’s priority projects. This SEA “shows” there is no threat to the environment! Little wonder it has been heavily criticised by NGOs, notably WWF, and even some Commission services and officials of the Ukrainian government. WWF concluded firmly: “It would be very premature for the high-level group to consider this project’s suitability as part of the TENs-T extension to the EU’s neighbourhood countries.”

    This is just one example, but there are countless more. Many of the new member states have not yet assigned their Natura 2000 sites, and still fewer of the neighbouring countries. Thus the conflicts between TEN policy and European nature prevention policy are continuing or worsening.

    But it’s not just about nature. Many of these projects fail when examined on economic criteria. That is why T&E is not just calling for environmental and social factors to be taken into consideration, but economic factors too. Too often controversial projects are given the green light because “the economic benefits are felt to outweigh the environmental disbenefits”, but in many cases we’re not even talking about that. We’re talking about avoiding the lose:lose situation in which the environment suffers and the economic benefits don’t follow. That is the risk the current policy of getting high-level groups to draw up infrastructure wishlists runs.

    This news story is taken from the October 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.