German Court Allows Airbus Factory to Fill in Wetland

HAMBURG, Germany, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - The German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) has declined to grant an injunction to stop the filling of Mühlenberger Loch, Europe's largest freshwater tidal mudflat, for the construction of an Airbus Industrie A380 production factory. Environmentalists worldwide mourned the loss.

"Essentially, the German Federal Constitutional Court has decided not to interfere on the grounds of standing," said Scott Crosby, European Union consulting lawyer for the International Fund for Animal Welfare of the court's decision handed down Wednesday.

"Instead, they have taken a formalistic, and what some would call out-dated approach to the issue. By doing so, they have left environmental groups with no legal standing in this case," he said.

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Mühlenberger Loch. (Photo courtesy © Naturschutzjugend Hamburg)
On April 25, two local environmental groups, Vereim Zum Schutz von Hamburgs Elbregion (Association for the Protection of Hamburg's Elbe Region) and Vereim Zum Schutz von des Mühlenberger Loches (Association for the Protection of Mühlenberger Loch), partnered with the International Fund for Animal Welfare's AirbusThinkTwice campaign, and filed the injunction application.

The German Federal Constitutional Court, Germany's highest court, said in its opinion on the case that the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs had not been infringed upon by the action to fill Mühlenberger Loch.

The environmental groups had argued, and continue to stand by their opinion, that the filling of Mühlenberger Loch contravenes two laws - the European Union's Wild Birds Directive and the EU Habitats Directive.

"What seemed unthinkable now appears inevitable," said Fred O'Regan, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), following the court's decision.

"The unique eco-gem of Mühlenberger Loch, home to thousands of wetland birds, will continue to be filled. A rare and globally important habitat will be sacrificed for short-term profit," O'Regan said.

"We are disappointed by this court decision. IFAW will continue its efforts to protect animals and vital habitat in Germany and around the world by ensuring that legally protected areas are not destroyed for corporate profit," he vowed.

The Muhlenberger Loch is denoted as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, a global wetlands treaty. Still, Airbus has already driven steel pilings into one area of the sensitive mudflats, and has begun filling the flats with sand.

Airbus plans to fill 420 acres of the flats for the construction of a new A380 production factory. The huge A380 planes would be built in Toulouse, France, and then transported to the Hamburg facility for completion of the interior furnishings such as carpeting.

The facility is still under scrutiny, and protests continue. The US$600 million subsidy given to Airbus by Hamburg is being examined. The European Commission is investigating the Airbus issue for irregularities.

Hundreds of farmers have blockaded Airbus' construction site with tractors; EADS (Airbus Industrie parent company) shareholder resolutions opposing the project have been submitted; and letters of complaint have come from an Indian Minister of State, the head of the international wetlands treaty, and European Parliamentarians.