One of the largest container ports on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea is to be built in Swinoujscie, Poland, just five kilometers off the German border and adjacent to the fashionable holiday island, Usedom. Once established, it will be able to process up to 2 million TEU p.a. and serve the largest vessels navigating in the Baltic Sea. However, resistance to the scheme is growing, primarily because of the expected negative impact on the environment, particularly with regard to deforestation and water pollution.
The builder and future proprietor of the deep-sea harbor is the Szczecin and Swinoujscie Seaports Authority. It is a majority state-owned company (94.8%) with private investors holding a minority
stake (4.4%). A tender is underway, guaranteeing a future operator exclusive rights of use for 30 years.
According to the SSSA consortium, the port will stretch hundreds of meters into the ocean from the shoreline, and be accessible to the largest vessels currently sailing the Baltic Sea. On the seaward side, the terminal will consist of a 1,400 m long and 505 m wide pier, deep-water basins (17m in depth) and seawater lanes, totaling at least 400 ha. The quay will allow the simultaneous operation of two, large, 400-meter vessels, and a smaller container ship measuring 200 meters.
Violation of NATURA 2000
On the land side, transshipment facilities, warehouses and transport routes are to be built on an area totaling 400 hectares. For this purpose, it is planned to log off a rare and protected coastal forest, which has grown there over centuries and is a European protected habitat according to the European Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive NATURA 2000. The decree is aimed at protecting valuable natural habitats, including endangered maritime environments.
For the Polish state, the planned deep-water seaport will not only strengthen the country’s position as a maritime hub and improve its hinterland connections via the Oder and Vistula rivers to Hungary, the Czech Republic or the Ukraine, but simultaneously up its prestige as an economic powerhouse in the Baltic region. This explains why the Warsaw government stands behind the plans, even against growing resistance from Germany’s environmentalists and tourism associations.
Little interest in cross-border cooperation
The latter point out that Poland has not yet initiated a procedure for the project in accordance with EU law. An environmental impact assessment is still missing, as is the participation of the German side. Coordinator Rainer Sauerwein of the Usedom citizen’s initiative ‘Lebensraum Vorpommern’ in accord with Waldemar Okon of the local Green party, remind that the Polish supporters have violated an agreement requiring that cross border activities impacting both sides are coordinated to find a solution pleasing all parties involved. Both critics refer to the Espoo Convention, which entered into force in 1991, signed by the EU member states, including Poland and Germany, followed by a renewed agreement signed in 2018.
Environmental issues play the third fiddle
The treaty obliges states to notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries. “Due to the massive environmental damage that is expected to result from the port construction, the changes in water flows along with the increase in heavy traffic on both sides of the border, the Polish side is obliged to comply with the Espoo Directive and find common solutions pleasing both sides,” states Rainer Sauerwein. He adds to this that this also applies to regional follow-up projects impacting the environment, such as road and bridge constructions, to ensure the smooth transport of seaborne goods - for example across Usedom.
Poland, however, has so far shown little interest in mutual talks or agreeing to investigations regarding the environmental compatibility of the Szczecin/Swinoujscie
Since the port project violates various EU directives, and German politicians have not even been officially informed about the plans by the Polish side, which is another violation of EU agreements, the Green party, along with other critics now intends to bring the matter to the EU Parliament.
It is doubtful, however, whether a negative vote by the EU politicians will make any difference. Poland has repeatedly violated EU resolutions and laws in the past.
CFG asked Hannah Neumann, Member of the European Parliament (German Green Party) for a statement on the project, as she represents the interests of the island of Usedom and the
surrounding region. Here is what she told us:
"The size of the project, the proximity to the neighboring communities, the expected traffic of container vessels, and the potential impact on tourism and the environment along the German coastline, requires that Germany, and especially the people living in Usedom, should be involved in the planning. We have amiable cross-border relations in the area, and the German and Polish economies are highly dependent on each other. That's why I urge the Polish and German sides to enter into an intensive exchange of views on this project. In the international ESPOO Convention, Poland and Germany have contractually committed themselves to consultations on environmental issues. A bilateral agreement following ESPOO emphasizes this too. Both sides must live up to these contractual commitments.
Before any action is taken, an environmental impact assessment according to EU standards is imperative and required by EU law.
Especially the environmental guidance documented in the European Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive Natura 2000 must be complied with. Such an assessment needs to be conducted before the first sod is turned. This is paramount in order to achieve findings backed by data revealing the full impact this project might have on the entire region.
Further to this, growing doubts regarding the profitability of the projects are nourished by the fact that private investors obviously show little interest in the current tendering process. Hence, it would be embarrassing if the massive environmental degradation caused by the harbor project leads the scheme into disaster should the anticipated transshipment figures not be achieved."
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