• TENs rules overlooked as new members rush for roads

    EU finance ministers have approved just over €8 billion for trans-European transport network (TENs) projects for 2007-13, amid a growing number of protests against proposed transport schemes – mostly motorways – in the new EU member states.

    MEPs and ministers will discuss early next year how the money should be spent, but controversy over how little EU rules are being respected on projects in Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia could influence the allocation. CEE Bankwatch, the environmental NGO coordinating campaigns on many of these schemes, says the issue is not just the environmental damage these schemes will cause, but the fact that a failure to respect EU processes is leading to overpriced and uneconomic projects being given the green light. Anelia Stefanova, CEE Bankwatch’s transport coordinator, said: “Most politicians are familiar with the so-called list of 30 priority projects and often use this list as arguments in favour of their pet projects being approved. But few of them are aware that the priority projects are just an annex to a set of guidelines which include objectives for the optimisation of the use of the existing network, eliminating the bottlenecks and compliance with EU environmental law.” The Via Baltica motorway, which is planned to go through the Rospuda Valley in Poland, is an example of a project which CEE Bankwatch says fails to comply with the transport TEN guidelines. It will pass through four areas that are part of the “Natura 2000” network. In such cases, EU law and the TENs guidelines require alternatives to be considered outside the protected region, as well as a strategic environmental assessment of a corridor to ensure other transport is considered. Yet the Polish government pressed for approval of their preferred route through the valley without waiting for the results of the SEA. Campaigners say alternative routes exist, some of them likely to be cheaper. The Vienna-Brno motorway is TEN priority project No. 25, but the Austrian and Czech governments want the new motorway to pass through Natura 2000 sites, despite existing D2-motorway that connects Brno and Vienna via Bratislava passing just a few kilometres away. The Czech ombudsman stated in his report published this month that the authorities made serious mistakes, and violated the SEA by not assessing alternatives to the proposed route. The Austrian government does not plan any SEA despite spending billions of euros on new infrastructure. In Bulgaria, the Kresna Gorge, one of the country’s most important biodiversity sites, is under threat from a new motorway despite no assessment of an alternative that would avoid the gorge. In 2003, environmental NGOs hired engineers to show that the less damaging alternative was feasible. And environmental groups in Serbia say the government has broken EIA regulations affecting public consultations for the Belgrade by-pass. Stefanova added: “With the TENs budget cut from 20 billion to 8 billion, the need to consider alternatives and optimise existing infrastructure is not just an environmental concern but a necessity for wise use of limited public resources.” This news story is taken from the November 2006 edition of T&E Bulletin.