All ministries are called upon to develop reforms. Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann (FDP) has now submitted his proposal. He wants to ensure that important energy and infrastructure projects are no longer blocked by years of court proceedings.
Buschmann said: “In times of increasing energy shortages, the outstanding importance of this project has once again become particularly clear.” The expansion of gas and power lines as well as liquid gas terminals have top priority.
This will also make Germany less dependent on foreign imports. “The energy transition also requires the rapid expansion of renewable energies,” explained Buschmann. “Our road and rail network must also be improved quickly.” This requires a reduced procedure time.
Specifically, the minister sent the draft bill for a law “to speed up administrative court proceedings in the infrastructure sector” on Thursday to states and associations for comments.
It currently takes an average of 20 years to build a new railway line
According to the draft, court proceedings on “particularly important infrastructure projects” should be given priority over other proceedings. For example, the following are particularly important:
- Plants for the use of wind energy on land with a total height of more than 50 meters
- Planning approval projects for high-voltage lines, gas supply lines with a diameter of more than 300 millimeters and connection lines from plants for liquefied natural gas (LNG)
- Plan approvals for commercial airports, trams, public railways, federal long-distance and country roads, federal waterways
It currently takes an average of 20 years to build a new railway line in Germany. It takes four to five years to get wind turbines approved. The procedures are complex. Nature and species protection as well as citizens’ interests must be protected. Complaints often arise.
Procedures are streamlined
In the future, the higher administrative courts and administrative courts will be responsible for lawsuits against “particularly important” projects. Complaints about LNG terminals or projects under the Energy Security Act should be decided in the first and last instance by the Federal Administrative Court.
When making decisions about deferring or suspending projects, the courts should be able to disregard formal deficiencies in the disputed administrative act if it is clear that these deficiencies will be remedied “in the foreseeable future”.
The draft states: “This can be the case, for example, if an additional procedure to remedy the defect has already been initiated.” The aim is that the courts only suspend steps in the project if they can lead to “irreversible”, i.e. irreversible disadvantages.
Such an “assessment of the consequences of enforcement” applies above all if the projects are “in the overriding public interest”, as stated in a statement by the Ministry of Justice. This includes, for example, the construction or modification of cross-border high-voltage lines, connection lines from offshore wind farm substations and projects for secure gas supply such as stationary floating systems for importing liquefied natural gas.
According to the draft, a hearing “at an early stage of the procedure” will play a central role in the future. On the one hand, the judges should explore the possibilities of an “amicable settlement of the legal dispute”. On the other hand, if such a settlement is not reached, a procedural plan should be established with which the further procedure will be structured. The period should be two months after receipt of the statement of defense.
Judges should specialize
According to the draft, a specialization in planning law at the administrative courts, in the form of planning chambers or planning senates, should ensure further acceleration: “The establishment of specialized arbitration bodies is intended to ensure that judges with special knowledge of planning law and a special understanding of planning law contexts in be used in these procedures.”
For example, Baden-Württemberg, which is one of the last states among the larger federal states when it comes to wind turbines, set up an infrastructure senate at the administrative court in Mannheim at the beginning of August. In particular, he should be responsible for proceedings in connection with wind turbines.
challenge for the courts
The Federal Ministry of Justice emphasized that the project is only about accelerating the processes. The rights of the plaintiffs were fully preserved. “For example, regulations for species and climate protection, which must always be observed in such large construction projects, are not affected,” the ministry said.
However, the explanatory memorandum to the law admits that the entry into force of the regulations would “under certain circumstances” pose challenges to practice and in particular to the courts and court organization. “In view of the urgency of accelerating administrative court proceedings on particularly important infrastructure projects due to the current challenges, however, this is necessary,” it continues.
Most recently, in an interview with the Handelsblatt, the then President of the Federal Administrative Court, Klaus Rennert, called for more staff if the court were to be given more first-instance responsibilities.
So far, this has already happened with the Structural Strengthening Act for the coal regions (construction of roads and railways), with the Federal Requirements Plan Act (expansion of high-voltage lines), with the Wind Energy at Sea Act (expansion of offshore wind power) and the Investment Acceleration Act (approval of railways – and waterway projects as well as wind turbines) is the case.
The Bundestag must approve the law. For the parliamentary process, the SPD parliamentary group has already announced that it wants to ensure “that the legitimate interests of the citizens are reflected in the law”.
More: “Any project can be affected” – New obstacles for wind turbines