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17th Apr 2021

EU transport 'mega-projects' threaten nature sites

EU transport "mega-projects" are threatening over a thousand protected nature sites in Europe, according to a coalition of European environmental groups.

Some of the most rare birds in Europe, including the Red-breasted Goose and the Dalmatian Pelican, as well as a range of biodiverse habitats could be put at risk by 21 planned "priority projects" that are part of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) package.

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The TEN-T is the EU's transport infrastructure framework. Originally adopted in 1990, TEN-T is engaged aims to connect up tens of thousands or roads, railways and waterways across Europe by 2020.

In one example, a project that aims to remove some 1,600 km of bottlenecks on the Rhine-Main-Danube corridor to improve its navigability could negatively affect some 83 different natural sites in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, and another 48 important bird areas in Bulgaria and Romania.

The threats are highlighted in a new report from Birdlife International, who, together with Transport & Environment (T&E), the European Environment Bureau and the CEE Bankwatch Network, presented their findings in the European Parliament on Tuesday (13 May)

Jos Dings, director of Transport and Environment, a transport campaign group said: "The story of Europe's priority transport infrastructure projects is a classic example of old-fashioned political horse-trading. The projects were chosen behind closed doors and pushed through without consideration of the economic and environmental risks."

"It's now time for a root and branch review of how these megaprojects get picked," he added.

Clairie Papazoglou, regional director of BirdLife Interantional's European division, said that the threat went further than just a few projects.

"This new analysis highlights the magnitude of the threat to Natura 2000 [Europe's network of protected nature sites] from transport development. The 21 Priority Projects analysed are just the tip of the iceberg, implementation of TEN-T network as a whole could have much more severe impacts.

"The vast majority of these impacts can be avoided if Natura 2000 areas are taken into account in the early stages of planning. This is required by EU environmental law," said Ms Papazoglou.

"As a minimum, EU funding needs to be denied to all projects which do not fully comply with EU legislation," she continued.

In the main, the groups see the problem being resolved through the enforcement of existing EU nature laws.

But additionally, the groups are demanding that biodiversity considerations be taken into account at the earliest stage of work, and call for the establishment of "a strong mechanism" to resolve conflicts between TEN-T and Natura 2000 and a system that can scrutinise spending on transport projects to ensure that EU funding is not provided for projects that damage nature sites.

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