BIf major projects such as wind farms, power lines and railway lines have been approved, far too much time passes in Germany. The parties were unanimous in the election campaign. But the grand coalition has shown how difficult it is to make substantial changes here: In the past legislative period, it introduced four planning acceleration laws without resounding success.
The future traffic light government will have to be measured by whether it succeeds more. After all, the energy transition, a key promise, is at stake. The traffic light aims to identify two percent of the country’s area for wind power, but the systems and routes also have to be built. The coalition agreement lists the projects with which the traffic light aims to achieve the stated goal of “at least halving” the process time for private and state investments are listed on three pages.
“The planning has to be right from the start”
Till Steffen von den Grünen explains the approach as follows: “The planning has to be right from the start. If the agency doesn’t make mistakes, there won’t be lengthy legal proceedings. Laws alone are not enough. The last government failed because of that. ”Steffen, former Justice Senator in Hamburg and also a specialist lawyer for administrative law, was the deputy head of the working group for planning acceleration.
One reason for the lengthy proceedings are the numerous lawsuits that are brought against almost every infrastructure project in this country. That is why the public debate is mainly about ways to curtail legal protection. But that doesn’t get you very far, European law sets narrow limits here. The SPD, the Greens and the FDP take a different approach: They want to introduce “the earliest possible and intensive public participation”. The idea is that the authority knows and can take into account all relevant concerns when making a decision. In Schleswig-Holstein, where Robert Habeck followed this approach as the then Green Environment Minister, the number of lawsuits fell significantly as a result.
The early communication with citizens and associations is one aspect of the new “planning culture” that the traffic lights want for the German administration. However, a federal government cannot order that civil servants become more flexible in their ideas in the future. Instead, it is planned to provide the authorities and courts with better staffing and technical equipment; the Federal Administrative Court is to get new senates. This is to be financed through a “pact to accelerate planning”; there is talk of four billion euros over ten years.
Traffic light wants to use small loophole in European law
The policy of listening and engaging is not limitless, even at the traffic lights. The FDP and the Greens have prevailed with their demand for a preclusion: If a nature conservation association or the public concerned is initially not involved in a procedure in any way, the objections can no longer be raised later. European law leaves a small loophole here that the future government wants to take advantage of.
For certain infrastructure projects, the traffic light uses the means of legal planning. Railway lines, power lines and engineering structures, such as critical bridges, should in future not be decided by an administrative act, but by law. There have been problems with this approach in the past: Germany was only recently condemned by the European Court of Justice because citizens only have the option of going to the Federal Constitutional Court against the law. The court saw this as an inadmissible shortening of legal protection.
The traffic light wants to solve the problem by creating a norm control before the Federal Administrative Court. One of the ways in which the traffic light wants to bring more speed to normal procedures is that regional planning and planning approval procedures are more closely interlinked.
Species protection is also a common hurdle for large-scale projects. According to the coalition agreement, it should in future be possible to weigh up against the climate protection goals. Systems for generating and transporting electricity from renewable energies, i.e. the construction of wind turbines, solar parks and power lines, should be in the public interest per se and serve public safety. The Federal Nature Conservation Act permits an exception to the protection of species if the public interest prevails. A violation of species protection would then no longer necessarily mean the end of a project.