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The MEPs’ vote came as the Commission threatened Italy with withdrawal of funding for one of the 30 TEN “priority projects”, the Messina Strait bridge linking Sicily with mainland Italy, for its failure to provide an adequate environmental impact assessment (EIA).
Brussels’ warning to Rome resulted from a complaint by an independent NGO, which adds extra weight to criticism of the Parliament’s decision to ratify the new financing rules at the same time as it rejected amendments calling for independent assessment of project viability and cost benefit analyses.
T&E joined with CEE Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth Europe in issuing a release saying the vote will cause billions of euros to be spent on transport infrastructure regardless of economic feasibility or environmental impact. The rejection of the proposal for independent assessment of schemes comes as officials want to raise the share of EU funding from 20% to 50% per project, and want to quadruple “priority project” funding to €20.49 billion for the next budget period (up to 2013).
T&E policy officer Markus Liechti said: “MEPs are happy to spend taxpayers’ money but have failed in their duty to get value for money. It will now be even easier for blank cheques to be written for projects, regardless of those projects’ viability.”
The Commission’s warning to Italy over EU funding for the Messina bridge says the Italian government has not carried out an EIA that meets EU requirements, nor taken adequate steps to avoid damaging important habitats. The Sicilian end of the bridge is very close to the Capo Peloro protected area known for its rich bird, animal and marine life, and WWF Italy said in its formal complaint that EU rules for building in protected areas had not been followed.
The Italian government has two months to respond, or risk losing the EU’s contribution to the bridge, estimated at 10-20%. A week before receiving the Commission’s warning, it gave the contract to build the bridge to Impreglio, the former construction unit of the car maker Fiat. Work on the bridge is expected to start early next year; Brussels says it will continue the funding procedure on the assumption that the necessary EIA will be provided.
Past experience suggests the project is unlikely to be delayed on environmental grounds. Though carrying out EIAs is obligatory, a government or the EU is not bound by the findings, though the EU could in theory withhold funding if the findings contravened EU protection laws. In practice, the Commission has always found a way of accepting an EIA on a project it wants to see completed.
Liechti added: “If there had been an independent assessment of the Messina bridge, it probably wouldn’t have got EU funding on economic grounds, never mind environmental concerns.”
This news story is taken from the November 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.