This is a guest post by Madeleine Wahlberg.
Previous blogs on this site over the last 2 years have noted that despite MPs and others saying that everyone in mainland Europe is really happy with HSR, there is in fact a great deal of opposition. These opposition groups, including STOP HS2, regularly meet together and what is always surprising is how alike the imposed megaprojects (including both HSR and airports) are. We swap stories about ludicrous so-called ‘business cases’; about the low priority of HSR schemes that will absorb massive proportions of the investment funds; about environmental damage; and above all about the deeply anti-democratic ways in which these megaprojects are imposed.
In our opposition to HS2 we know about the farce that is democratic participation. We know about the farce that was the consultation; we know about the farce that is the Community Forum meetings – which reminds me of one of the most famous posters from 1968 Paris: It reads as follows:
He, she, it participates
But will we also have to learn at first hand what many of the similar projects in mainland Europe have learned about, the farce that is a government agreement? It seems there are two phases to this: first the government (German, French or Italian) agrees that before a project is taken further (Stuttgart, Nantes, Susa Valley), there will be an independent study into some aspect that they have failed to consider up to now. In the second phase, they send in the police or army to clear the land for the development before that study has reported.
We have seen the horrific violence that this has involved in Stuttgart and in the Susa Valley – reported in earlier blogs here. Violence against people as well as destroying property. Last week we saw the same thing again near Nantes in France.
Nantes is the site of a 10 year struggle against a second airport. I won’t rehearse all the arguments against the airport in this blog – leave a comment if you would like to know more – but it is the usual story of no business case, no economic case, no environmental case, no money to pay for it – a desperately awful vanity project.
Yes, in Nantes there was a government agreement to undertake a study of the impact of the proposed development on the environment, particularly the swamp areas that could be impacted by changes to the water table. They didn’t know the answers to this and the government agreed that meanwhile they would stop the compulsory purchase of farms which included the immediate destruction of the old farm houses, because it was reasonable to suggest that if the development did not go ahead, returning farmers would need somewhere to live if they were to re-work the land.
Then last week on 16th October at 6.50am, Phase 2 (see above) of this agreement was implemented. Police cut off the whole area that they declared part of the development zone and put a chopper in the skies above. They then started to clear the area of inhabitants – about 100 people live in around 25 different parts of the area. The media were banished from the whole area (yes, this is the farce of ‘transparent government’) but the next day they could all see the burning roofs of the farmhouses. And what was the justification for this failure to keep to the agreement to wait for the environmental report before proceeding? Well it appears that from the start of November there is some legal requirement in France that forbids making anyone homeless in winter. So the violent evictions needed to happen before the end of October… report or no report, agreement or no agreement. As I said, the farce of a government agreement.
This takes us to another farce that we share across the European HSR projects – the farce that is a politician’s pre-election promise. In the case of Nantes, before his election the President of France (Hollande) said that he definitely opposed the Nantes scheme including on environmental grounds. However, it was he who supported the appointment of the Prime Minister of France (Ayrault), who is a past mayor of Nantes and is absolutely committed to the development. Holland did not seem to tell Ayrault to hold his fire last week, at least until the environmental issues had been reported on. So much for Hollande’s pre-election promise to protect the unique environment. And yes we all remember Cameron’s ‘greenest government ever’ promise that somehow doesn’t seem to apply to the largest ever spending on a single infrastructure project… The farce of a pre-election promise.
So what happened in Nantes last week is shocking. However, the opposition will come out of it even stronger because now right across Europe and North Africa far more people than ever knew about a proposed airport in Nantes are angry at what the French government is doing. For those across Europe who are facing water cannon, tear gas, eviction, burned farmhouses etc – the transport megaprojects are rather unfunny because let’s face it, they are a farce.