The expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport tries to start engines, but without dispelling doubts about its good direction. The impact of the work on a natural environment that has the European Natura 2000 protection seal for its ecological value has stirred critical voices and has accelerated the call for protests of rejection. The uproar unleashed after the agreement between the central government and the Generalitat has led the promoters to be more aware of the citizen opposition than to show their chest for having unblocked a project that involves 1,700 million euros of investment and the creation of 80,000 jobs direct. Both the Ministry of Transport and the Catalan Government transfer responsibility to Brussels, arguing that it will be the European Commission who will have the last word on whether or not to expand the airport infrastructure. Critics, for their part, are clinging to hope of a veto from Brussels on environmental grounds.
The Government and the Generalitat agree to the expansion of the El Prat airport with the unlocking of 1,700 million
The European decision is not imminent. Aena estimates that the processing of the project will be ready between 2022 and 2024. And it is in this period that the community authorities should give their approval. If everything goes as planned by the Government, from that moment the works would begin, which should be completed in 2030, according to the Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez. But the process will not be easy. The European Commission is already attentive to what is happening in Barcelona. “Of course we have seen the news about the construction of this new infrastructure. And of course we have legislation in force for the evaluation of the environmental impact before undertaking any project that may have repercussions for the protection of the environment, be it in water, land or habitat. The national authorities have the responsibility to guarantee that the norms are applied correctly and that the European legislation is respected ”, assured a community spokeswoman, who said that in Brussels they are“ attentive ”to the situation. Bernardo de Miguel.
Spain’s record of infringements of European environmental legislation is quite significant. Only in 2020, according to the annual report of the European Commission on the application of Community law, infringement proceedings were opened against Spain for the incorrect application of the directive on flood prevention; for the restriction of access to justice based on the directive on environmental liability, and for the incorrect transposition of a part of the directive on air quality (this last file, already closed in 2021).
The counselor and vice-president Jordi Puigneró has acted as the main supporter of the project within a Catalan Executive that has been very hesitant about the work. After going to Madrid to iron out the latest discrepancies with the ministry, Puigneró affirmed that the plan will only be implemented “with the endorsement of the European Union.” The same message was launched by Pere Aragonès. The president, which during the negotiating process has remained ambiguous, stated that “the endorsement of the European Commission” will be essential “for the investments to take place.”
In Esquerra the matter has raised blisters. The party bases have criticized the decision taken by the Government without having reached “a prior consensus with the territory.” Minister Raquel Sánchez stressed that the progress of the project “depends on the demands of the European Union.” The one who was mayor of Gavà (Barcelona) until last month, one of the municipalities most affected by the influx of air traffic, has insisted that the operation must be carried out with “the least possible impact.”
After a long tug of war, the agreement between the central and regional administrations lays the foundations for Aena to deploy an investment of 1,700 million euros, which includes the stretching of one of the runways of the Barcelona airfield, the construction of a new one satellite terminal for T1 and a series of actions to raise the capacity ceiling of the facility to beyond the current 70 million passengers. The limit under current conditions is set at 55 million and in 2019, the last pre-pandemic exercise, there were 53 million users.
The mayor of El Prat, Lluís Mijoler, has exercised a frontal opposition to the enlargement of the terminals and the airfield. Mijoler affirms that “the European Union is not going to allow an extension of the airport that affects the delta of the Llobregat”. The mayor, who represents El Prat en Comú, wields a letter of formal notice sent half a year ago by the European Commission to the Spanish Government indicating the need to “adopt the necessary measures to prevent any further deterioration of the Natura 2000 delta del Llobregat site as a consequence of the execution of large infrastructure projects, such as the expansions of the international airport and the Barcelona seaport ”.
European ecological stamp
The Natura 2000 Network is a European ecological seal for biodiversity conservation areas. It consists of Special Conservation Zones (ZEC) established in accordance with the Habitat Directive and Special Protection Areas for Birds (ZEPA) designated by virtue of the Birds Directive. Entities such as Zeroport, opposed to the wetlands near the slopes being affected with more cement, have announced protests. “For September 19 we foresee a massive mobilization,” announces the entity, which tries to spread the slogan Less planes, more life.
Aena sources point out that “there are no precedents” of cases in which the European Commission has vetoed the execution of a project agreed upon by the administrations of a member country, “not even when a protected area has been affected”. Aena insists that there is a process in place to carry out actions on areas of natural interest and what must be done is “to be rigorous” with the fulfillment of the required requirements. The impact on the natural strip of the Llobregat delta will be offset by the renaturation of other lands. “In spaces that are of community interest, the compensation is from one to ten,” says the airport management company. Ecologists reply that in an area of high environmental interest such as the Llobregat delta, it is not enough to replace one protected area with another to comply with the regulations.
One of the arguments of the critics with the expansion of the Barcelona airport is that the amount of money reserved to expand the infrastructure, 1.7 billion euros, would yield more if it were dedicated to improving the benefits of other more sustainable services, such as the railroad. Aena, a listed company, defends that the State’s participation is 51% and that “understanding the public treasury as a system of watertight compartments is a completely wrong idea.”