This is a guest post by Madeleine Wahlberg.
One of the most common arguments made by those who want to develop HS2 is that everyone in Europe is truly happy with HSR and that we are not only lagging behind our economic competitors in Europe but lagging behind their social embrace of modern technology. In fact Kwasi Kwarteng MP on the Transport Select Committee (TSC) 12th July 2011 used the phrase “unalloyed success” to refer to the way that those in Germany described their HSR [Q232 HC1185iii].
Let’s think about this a bit – the TSC go on a fact-finding mission to mainland Europe. They ask Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB) what they think of the (DB) HSR in Germany. What a surprise! DB say that they think DB is doing great! DB do not offer up any evidence about the problems or difficulties or even mistakes that they have made. Over in the UK however, we may question the wisdom of our MPs who think this is an adequate and valid basis for gathering objective evidence.
So we can certainly criticise the TSC’s ‘fact-finding’ tour of HSR in Europe, but is there any evidence of concern about the development of HSR in mainland Europe? Well I don’t know about you but I would count the use of tear gas and water cannon against 60- 100,000 demonstrators as something of a sign that not all is well in the DB garden! We have written up the story of the Stuttgart 21 (S21) HSR project in 2 earlier posts on this site (see Stuttgart 21 – or Germans object too and Stuttgart 21 – the Green’s view and )
Not only has there been MASSIVE opposition from people, but the independent arbitrator who was asked by government to mediate in this dispute was scathing about the incompetence of DB – technical incompetence, economic incompetence, finance incompetence, and political incompetence. Oh – and on the latter, just a word in the ears of our MPs – the regional government were thrown out on the S21 issue and replaced for the first time ever, by a Green Party alliance.
And does the opposition to HSR on mainland Europe go any further than Germany? Well yes, it has reached the level of opposition to demonstrations in Italy too, and there has been a large amount of opposition in France and Spain – for just one example, see this website in French http://www.federationalto.net/presse.html and you will see opposition going back over 10 years – and longer in the Susa Valley. Indeed, such is the opposition to HSR that groups in Germany, Spain, Italy and France have come together to produce ‘The Charter of Hendaye’ – a statement of their opposition not only to actual high speed lines, but increasingly to the whole concept of HSR and crucially also to the governance surrounding the policy making – in short, how governments have behaved.
The ‘Charter Group’ has just had a conference this bank holiday and we will keep you in touch with their work through this blog. In particular we will be linking with the ‘Charter Group’ so as to be involved in the next high level EU Parliamentary debate. If anyone has a question that they would like to be put to the EU Parliament on HSR, this can easily be arranged through the ‘Charter Group’ so let us know. If anyone can speak Italian and would like to be involved, please let us know too on firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is a translation of the Charter – and here is their website http://www.11-12-2010.eu/
So let’s not hear anything more about how uniformly happy EU citizens are with their HSR – and by implication, how daft we are to question the government and its plans for HS2. We are just catching up with their widespread opposition – however DB try to portray it!