The judgment is final. The plan approval decision had withstood the review, said the presiding judge Wolfgang Bier on Tuesday when giving reasons for the judgment in Leipzig. The nature conservation association NABU, several ferry companies and an action alliance, among others, had sued the billion-dollar project promoted by Denmark (Ref .: BVerwG 9 A 7.19 et al.). They doubt that the tunnel would be used sufficiently and fear environmental effects, for example on harbor porpoises and reefs in the straits. However, the envisaged conditions ensure that neither for shipping nor for nature are to be expected major risks or impairments, according to the court. For example, porpoises would not be disturbed by the noise.
NABU: concerns have been “wiped away”
In addition, the developer had exercised the necessary care in planning, said the presiding judge. This ensures that the sediment input from the construction work of measuring ships is observed and that the project can be interrupted or stopped if necessary. “We are initially disappointed that the court has not followed our concerns about the protection of the Baltic Sea, porpoises and sea ducks,” said NABU President Jörg-Andreas Krüger after the judgment. The concerns of the conservationists have been wiped away. Karin Neumann from the so-called Beltretter initiative fears dramatic consequences for the island itself and tourism on Fehmarn after the judgment. Many livelihoods are at stake: “The verdict for the Fehmarnbelt tunnel is a scandal. Simply put contracts before European marine protection and other things. We have to let that sink now.” Nevertheless, the initiative wants to see what other options still exist.
Pragmatism among Danish conservationists
Before the verdict was announced in Leipzig, opponents again protested against the construction of the tunnel – a construction that Danish environmentalists view very pragmatically. They are committed to the fact that not a bridge crosses the Fehmarnbelt – as was once planned – but a tunnel through which trains can travel. That is good for the climate. For the pond, where the tunnel is to come to the surface on the Danish side, a significantly larger body of water is created elsewhere to compensate. That is also a good solution, according to the Danish conservationists. You have great understanding for the concerns on the German side, said nature conservationist Michael Loevendal Kruse NDR Info. “But in order for our world to become better, we have to solve the big problems, for example climate change.”
Building law in Denmark for five years
In Denmark there has been building law for car and rail tunnels since 2015. Schleswig-Holstein’s neighbor will plan, build and operate the tunnel at its own cost of an estimated 7.1 billion euros. The construction time should be a total of six and a half years. According to previous planning, the tunnel should probably connect Germany and Denmark from 2029 onwards.
Surprise for plaintiff and country
The judgment of the court came as a surprise. NABU, for example, no longer expected that the project would be overturned – but that deficits in planning were criticized in Leipzig. Even Schleswig-Holstein’s Economics Minister Bernd Buchholz (FDP) had declared that the judges would presumably give the planners “homework”. According to the court, the plans now only need to be supplemented for strictly protected reefs in the area of the tunnel route. The planners have already promised a supplementary procedure for this. The decision of the judges in Leipzig shows that transport projects of this size can certainly work in Germany, said Buchholz. With its decision, the Federal Administrative Court made it clear that it is not necessary to go “quasi-scientifically into research” with such planning. It is enough to evaluate things according to the rules of technology and science. The verdict is a “milestone for infrastructure planning in Germany”.
Contract signed in 2008
The planned 18 kilometer long immersed tunnel between Puttgarden on Fehmarn and Rödby on Lolland is one of the largest transport projects in Europe. In 2008, Germany and Denmark signed the State Treaty on the Fixed Link across the Fehmarnbelt – the treaty was ratified a year and three months later. The economy hopes that the construction will give a boost to regional development.
The president of the business associations in the north (UVNord), Uli Wachholtz, spoke after the verdict was pronounced “a construction of the century over the Fehmarnbelt, for which the north German economy has been waiting longingly for decades”. Now the other necessary steps would have to be processed quickly and carefully, said Wachholtz. “At last, everyone involved knows what they are about. The opportunities for the region resulting from the fixed link must be used and the risks minimized. The employees in the sectors concerned must not stand in the rain and need clarity,” said Uwe Polkaehn, chairman of the DGB North.
The tunnel is also intended to shorten travel times: between Rödby and Puttgarden from 45 minutes by ferry to around ten minutes by car through the tunnel. According to DB Netz, passenger trains between Hamburg and Copenhagen would only be under three hours on the road instead of more than five hours.
Hinterland connection not part of the procedure
Germany has to pay for the costs of road and rail connections on the Schleswig-Holstein side in the amount of 3.5 billion euros. This includes a risk buffer of 1.1 billion euros. However, the current proceedings only concern the German section of the Baltic Sea tunnel. The German hinterland connection is the subject of a separate approval process. Several municipalities are demanding better noise protection.
Other lawsuits are pending before the European Court of Justice. But it is about Denmark’s state guarantees.