Airbus 1 - Hemlock water dropwort 0

EU Commission approves destruction of listed habitat for expansion of German aerospace plant

A German aerospace firm may partially destroy a protected wildlife site in the north of the country to expand its manufacturing facility, the European Commission said today. The Commission agreed with the German government that "imperative reasons of overriding public interest" outweighed the adverse environmental effects of allowing aircraft manufacturer Dasa to build over part of a nearby wetland in preparation for building a new Airbus jet.

The Mühlenberger Loch in Hamburg extends over 700 hectares and boasts rare species such as the hemlock water dropwort, which is listed in the EU's 1992 habitats directive and normally receives priority protection. The site is also listed as a "wetland of international importance" under the Ramsar convention. Under the directive, governments can request an exemption from habitat directive priority protection for particular sites if they believe there is an overriding public interest.

Dasa wants to drain and fill in one-fifth of the site to accommodate new manufacturing facilities for the planned Airbus A 3XX jumbo jet. In a request for clarification sent to the Commission, the German government says the plant cannot be located elsewhere. It adds that the project will create up to 8,000 jobs.

The request for clearance for the Dasa project is only the second time the Commission has been asked to rule on a proposed exemption from the habitats directive. The first was in 1995 - again from Germany - when the Commission approved the construction of a section of the A20 motorway.

A Commission official told ENDS Daily today that Germany had not been legally obliged to request clearance for the developments since the list of sites which will form the Natura network has not yet been approved by scientists. He said the country had asked for a ruling to ensure legal certainty that it would not be in contravention of the directive once the list is approved. He predicted more such requests would be made once the Natura 2000 network is fully in place.

Ironically, the scientific confirmation of the network has been delayed principally by Germany's failure to provide the Commission with adequate lists of proposed protected areas (ENDS Daily 20 January). The Commission said this meant it could not assess the compensatory measures that Germany must take when it builds the plant. The official said this usually means improving or recreating other sites which contain the same habitat type.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; see also press release IP/00/401 on Rapid.

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