German Greens want to sue transport minister over motorway upgrade debacle

"Even before the projects are underway, the costs are getting completely out of hand," criticised Sven-Christian Kindler, a budget expert for the Greens. EPA-EFE/HAYOUNG JEON [HAYOUNG JEON/EPA]

With the transport ministry increasing the costs to upgrade Germany’s motorways, the Greens are demanding to have access to important documents related to their construction. However, the country’s conservative transport minister, Andreas Scheuer (CSU), is stonewalling. EURACTIV’s partner WirtschaftsWoche reports.

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Last year, Scheuer was blasted for having “gambled” public funds in a failed attempt to introduce a road toll in Germany that would disproportionately impact foreign-registered cars.

And while the committee looking into the ministry’s toll disaster has just begun its work, the Greens are already tackling the next tricky issue, as Scheuer is being scrutinised for the planned extension of four motorways and one federal road.

“Even before the projects are underway, the costs are getting completely out of hand,” criticised Sven-Christian Kindler, a budget expert for the Greens.

Specifically, this concerns the expansion of the A61 in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg, where costs will almost double by €600 million. And the B247 from Mühlhausen to Bad Langensalza, which will cost almost €150 million more. Kindler also expects rising costs for the A49, A1/A30 and A3 even before construction begins.

All projects are planned as public-private partnerships (PPP), whereby the government awards the operation and maintenance section to a company, usually for 30 years.

That is because, according to the ministry, it is cheaper for the taxpayer than for the state do to it.

State before private?

But it is precisely this price advantage that Green politician Kindler doubts.

“Public-private partnerships in road construction are expensive and opaque privatisation projects,” according to Kindler, who believes the state could do this better and cheaper. In that regard, he referred to corresponding investigations by the Federal Court of Auditors.

Kindler, therefore, asked the transport ministry to disclose the economic feasibility studies of the five major PPP projects, which establish precisely why private companies are better than the state in this case.

The transport ministry, however, still refuses to disclose these documents and continues to keep the investigations secret because, were these to be made public, potential bidders in the award procedures could draw some conclusions, which could lead to distortions of competition.

But Kindler does not want the ministry to get away with this.

In the case of the A61, his appeal has already been unsuccessful, leaving him only the option of taking legal action. The legal opinion of Scheuer and his ministry is unlikely to change for the other projects either.

“Then I reserve the right to sue him through various instances for the publication of the profitability calculations,” said Kindler.

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And what about Autobahn GmbH?

These PPP projects are particularly explosive because Germany is currently in the process of completely repositioning itself with regard to trunk roads.

Starting next year, the federally owned motorway company is to take over the operation, expansion and maintenance of the motorways from the federal states. A pilot project is already running in northern Germany.

So if the federal government is undertaking a major reform to build roads faster, more efficiently and more cheaply itself, what else does it need PPP projects for?

This is precisely what the Bundestag’s Budget Committee warned about a year ago.

At the time, parliamentarians decided that the government had to take into account in the economic efficiency calculations for the A49 that the motorway reform would shift the balance between PPP and self-implementation.

“It makes no sense to throw lavish returns on investment to PPP operators for tasks that the Autobahn GmbH can do better and more efficiently”, criticised Kindler.

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