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2. Rationale: EU infrastructure planning and the quest for transnational public participation
3. Instruments and key problems of transnational public participation
4. Policy options to improve transnational public participation in EU infrastructure planning
“Of course, I would like to know what the people in Schleswig-Holstein really think about this project, since it affects both countries. That would definitely shed light onto the question, who is finally responsible for communicating the benefits of these massive TEN-T corridors to the citizens, us, them, or indeed Brussels?”, the Major Holger Rasmussen of the Maribo municipality in the Danish region Lolland questioned during the field research on the Danish-German Fehmarn Belt project.1
During the last years, transnational large-scale energy and transport infrastructure projects in the European Union (EU) have become highly contested and challenged by citizens and civil society organizations in Europe (European Commission, 2010, European Parliament, 2013: 47 et seq.; also Bankwatch, 2012, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, 2013 among various others). While the EU aims with its Trans-European Network for Energy and Transport programmes (TEN-E and TEN-T) at enhancing cross-border transmission grids, pipelines, electricity interconnectors, highways, railway tracks, and tunnels, these large-scale infrastructures are increasingly subject to public resistance and protests, transcending the borders of the EU member states. Transnational controversies among the general public on these projects even have led to international resentments on high-ranking political levels2.
Apart from the Italian-French high-speed railway tunnel connecting Lyon and Turin with violent protests, a major social movement in the Susa Valley, and a rising public scepticism on the French border (Saporito and Ciaffi, 2013), the protests surrounding the Danish-German Fehmarn Belt tunnel project is just one of the rising number of cases of highly contested transnational infrastructure projects in Europe, calling for a review of processes of transnational public participation in cross-border large-scale infrastructure planning in the EU (Newig and Fritsch, 2009, Andersson and Shahrokh, 2012, Wadenpohl, 2011, Scotti, 2013, Kröger and Friedrich, 2013 among others). Consequently, in the German-Dutch border region of Isselburg and Doetinchem, citizens’ groups in both states, opposing the planned construction of a 35 km long cross-border transmission grid line, have urged the EU authorities to rethink existing instruments of cross-border public participation and to intervene in member states’ exclusive competency of handling public consultation on these infrastructures (Isselburg 21 e.V., 2014).
While public participation in infrastructure planning within the EU member states’ territory has increasingly gained attention during the last years among policy-makers and academia in view of highly contested projects like Stuttgart21 (compare Coenen, 2009, BDI, 2011, Cotton and Devine-Wright, 2011, Bohne, 2011, Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2012, Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau und Stadtentwicklung, 2012, Gohl and Meister, 2012, Brettschneider and Schuster, 2013, Gohl, 2013, Rottmann, 2013, Banthien, Verstyl and Richwien, 2013, Schaible, 2013 among others), consultation and mediation of citizens’ interests in transnational infrastructure projects so far remains a cursory topic with few substantial investigation.
Therefore, this paper discusses how transnational public participation in the cross-border planning of these EU infrastructures can be improved. The paper starts in the first part by presenting the rationale for improving transnational public participation in EU infrastructure planning. In the second part, the paper not only discusses the current framework and main instrument, but also highlights its major problems. Based on these findings, the paper ends by deriving policy options on how to improve transnational public participation in EU infrastructure planning.
To complete the internal market and to enhance economic welfare and social cohesion among the member states, the EU and the member states increasingly invest in the extension and refurbishment of European energy and transport infrastructures: The EU Commission forecasts that about 600 bn. Euro have to be spent on trans-European transport routes until 2020 to further integrate member states’ markets. Under the TEN-T programme and the associated “Connecting Europe Facility”, the EU provides about 29 bn. Euro project funding between 2014 and 2020 for exploration studies and the construction of cross-border transport infrastructures (European Parliament, Council of the European Union, 2013a, European Parliament, Council of the European Union, 2013b). With the rising supply of intermittent renewables and their dispersed potential across the continent, EU’s TEN-E programme is targeted at enhancing cross-border grids and pipelines to increase intra-EU competition and to ensure supply security on an EU scale (European Parliament, Council of the European Union, 2006). The associated “Ten-Year Network Development Plan” (TYNDP) of ENTSO-E3 estimates that about 200 bn. Euro have to be invested until 2020 in the extension and refurbishment of European cross-border transmission grids (European Commission, 2011, ENTSO-E, 2012). As a consequence, with the rising need to invest in the cross-border energy and transport infrastructures, transnational conflicts and diverging interests in border regions across the EU are likely to increase. Effective processes for cross-border mediation of citizens’ interests and instruments for transnational public participation in EU infrastructure planning will become key to ensure cost-efficient and publicly accepted refurbishment and extension of grids and transport routes across the member states (Stern, 2012, Newig and Koontz, 2013).
The necessity to rethink transnational public participation in these trans-European infrastructure projects has already entered the agenda of policy-makers and industry stakeholders in both member states and the EU: Since about a third of the cross-border grid projects, projected in ENTSO-E’s TYNDP, are delayed or completely cancelled due to public opposition, regulatory barriers on member state level, and fuzzy cross-border and cross-sectoral cooperation (Zachmann, 2013: 62 et seq.), the EU Directorates for Energy and Environment have issued a regulation in April 2013 in order to streamline cross-border consultation of stakeholders (European Parliament, Council of the European Union, 2013c). Particularly in the energy sector, member states and the EU have recognized the importance of early and effective citizen participation and continuous cross-border cooperation (Renewable Grid Initiative, 2013, European Commission, 2013).4 Flawed cross-border public participation in the EU transport sector has also been under surveillance: A 2013’s review of the TEN-T programme, mandated by the European Parliament, concludes that it is “necessary to secure an effective involvement of all project stakeholders in a project, not only its supporters or sponsors”, since TEN-T projects are often characterized by a lack of genuine transnational deliberation and overall intransparency of the cross-border decision-making process (European Parliament, 2013: 86 et seq.).
The ongoing flawed transnational public participation in EU infrastructure planning has been explained by several scholars with the lack of a genuine “European public sphere”, a long-lasting theoretical discourse in political and communication sciences to frame the persisting democratic deficit of European governance (Langenbucher, 2006, Heidbreder, 2012, Friedrich, 2013): Although these trans-European projects have large environmental and social impacts on adjacent communities and there is an obvious rationale to facilitate cross-border consultation and deliberation on these undertakings among citizens, language and cultural as well as regulatory barriers may hinder effective cross-border public participation in European border regions (Sifft and Brüggemann, 2007).
Despite the recent adoption of the “European Citizen’s Initiative” in 2012, whose failures in view of its heavy-handed procedures and bureaucratic requirements have been broadly acknowledged in academia and policy-making (Hrbek, 2012, Quittkat, 2012), there are currently very few instruments for genuine transnational public participation and consultation available in the EU (Kohler-Koch and Quittkat, 2011, Nanz and Kamlage, 2013).
Interestingly, the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is one of these rare instruments, which enables citizens in adjacent EU member states – at least in theory – to voice their concerns in the cross-border planning of these EU large-scale infrastructures. The SEA, carried out and issued by the member states authorities, is legally based on the EU Public Participation Directive from 2003 (European Parliament, Council of the European Union, 2003), which the EU passed after the ratification of the international Aarhus Convention in 2001 on “access to information and public participation in environmental matters”.
Member states authorities, willing to plan a major infrastructure project of transnational relevance, can conduct a SEA in the very beginning of a broader spatial planning process in a border region, in which the wider environmental impacts of the envisaged infrastructure planning are discussed. Subsequently, citizens in adjacent states have the right to comment and object the findings of the SEA (Reed, 2008, Gauthier, Simard and Waaub, 2011, Harvey and Clarke, 2012).
“Honestly speaking, the SEA is neither an effective nor truly transnational public participation instrument, reaching our citizens or even the ones abroad. Which normal citizen is able to digest 1000 pages of very technical information on rock layers or is even aware that this heavy bureaucratic document exists?”, a project manager of the French Railway Track Company summarized during the field research the major deficits of this instrument: Despite large incoherence of SEA implementation practices among the member states, the SEA is neither legally obligatory nor do citizen’s objections have to be mandatorily taken into account by state authorities (Justice & Environment, 2008). The effectiveness of the SEA for transnational public participation is largely hampered, since in the initial assessment phase (the so-called “scoping phase”), member states authorities cannot only exclusively define the adjacent territory affected, but also determine if and which “affected public” in the adjacent state is consulted (Leibniz-Institut für ökologische Raumentwicklung e. V. (IÖR), 2007a, Zschiesche, Petersen and Tryjanowski, 2012).
In fact, EU’s Public Participation Directive, underlying the SEA, only sets very minimum standards for the member states with regards to cross-border information and consultation of the public concerned (Arbter, 2004, Jha-Thakur et al., 2009): Neither does the SEA require that the respective documents have to be translated into the adjacent language (SSW, 2013), nor does it prescribe any formal methods or procedures how the public in the bordering state has to be informed. Therefore, EU member states have implemented various bilateral agreements to increase legal and regulatory certainty, which are aimed at specifying timing and formal requirements of cross-border public consultation under the SEA (Leibniz-Institut für ökologische Raumentwicklung e. V. (IÖR), 2007b).
Moreover, although both TEN-T and TEN-E highly factor into the cross-border planning of the large-scale infrastructures between the member states and significantly impact communities and citizens in European border regions, both programmes are characterized by poor public participation and inclusion of interests of citizens and local communities (Innsbruck Declaration, 2013). A German citizen during the field research compared this lack of public participation with the deficits of public consultation regarding German transport infrastructure planning: While the multi-level infrastructure planning policies Bundesverkehrswegeplan, Raumordnungsverfahren and Planfeststellungsverfahren build on each other and the Bundesverkehrswegeplan sets the ground for the subsequent and detailed transport route planning by the Länder laid down in the Raumordnungsverfahren and Planfeststellungsverfahren, the superior policy of the Bundesverkehrswegeplan has foreseen the least information and participation of citizens in the past. In contrast, the locally conducted Planfeststellungsverfahren only allows to publicly consult on the final routing, but not on the need and rationale of the overall infrastructure expansion and refurbishment. “The whole participation procedure should be actually the other way around”, the citizen demanded. This paradox has been recently identified and addressed by German policy-makers (Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur, 2014).
Despite language barriers and diverging regulatory practices among the EU member states on carrying out SEAs, a core problem is the common practice of “project slicing” by the member states authorities, i.e. unravelling the overall transnational project into smaller national planning stages already at an early project stage. Project slicing certainly hinders citizens in border regions to effectively voice their interests as well as to understand the broader regional impact of these energy and transport routes (O'Faircheallaigh, 2010). Slicing of large-scale cross-border infrastructure projects may also cloud the potential transnational or even European benefits – a major concern expressed by planners and bureaucrats during the field research.
Moreover, scholars and interview partners during the field research claim that citizens and respective civil society organizations in border regions often lack the means and resources to network and properly discuss the benefits and costs of these transport and energy projects with the adjacent stakeholders in the bordering states (Albert, 1998, Barten et al., 2006, Frantz, 2009).
1 The findings of this paper are based on the author’s research in the framework of his one-year fellowship with the Studienkolleg zu Berlin, the European excellence scholarship programme of the Hertie Foundation, German National Academic Foundation, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study. Between January and May 2014, qualitative expert and guideline-based interviews as well as extensive field research on site of three large-scale infrastructure projects in Europe were conducted by the author, in addition to literature review. Support and funding by the organizations for this research are greatly appreciated.
2 The Rail Baltica project, a priority project of EU’s TEN-T programme to improve railway links between the three Baltic states and Poland, has triggered a transnational public controversy in the whole region, whether Lithuania should exit from the international project consortium due to national concerns over future political tensions and loyalties with bordering Russia. The track width of Lithuanian railways is currently based on Russian technical standards, which would have to be abolished when Lithuania continues to participate in EU’s Rail Baltica project. The Lithuanian public is concerned about the impact of the trans-European infrastructure project on its economy, since it fears that Russian transport companies will shift their freights to Belarus, bypassing the Lithuanian territory (The Wall Street Journal, “Lithuanian “Fools” Risk Delaying Rail Baltic, Says Estonian Minister - Real Time Brussels - WSJ,” 2014, http://blogs.wsj.com/brussels/2014/01/17/lithuanian-idiots-risk-delaying-rail-baltic-says-estonian-minister/, accessed May 2014.).
3 The European Network of Transmission Grid Operators, a semi-autonomous governance network based in Brussels that assembles most of the transmission system grid operators of the EU and non-EU member states (ENTSO-E, “Member Companies - ENTSO-E - European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity,” 2014, https://www.entsoe.eu/about-entso-e/inside-entso-e/member-companies/, accessed March 2014.).
4 Electricity industry stakeholders and business associations, policy-makers and civil society in the EU have founded the “Renewables Grid Initiative”, aimed at improving cross-border consultation and participation on enhanced transnational transmission grids (Renewables Grid Initiative, “Combining NGOs' and TSOs' perspectives Recommendations for efficient environmental assessment procedures to ensure sustainable grid development in the EU,” 2013, http://ec.europa.eu/energy/infrastructure/doc/assessment/20130724_ngo_tso.pdf, accessed May 2014.).
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