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18 Feb 2020, 13:48
Rachel Waldholz

Tesla gigafactory delay will damage Germany’s reputation, say conservatives

Clean Energy Wire / Handelsblatt / Der Spiegel

Conservative politicians and business associations are criticizing a ruling this weekend that temporarily halted work at the site of Tesla’s proposed e-car “Gigafactory” outside Berlin. A court on Sunday ordered the company to stop clearing trees at the site while judges consider a complaint from a local environmental group.

In a press release on Monday, a representative from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU coalition called for speeding up the approval process. “The Tesla case has the potential not only to become an embarrassing farce for the Berlin/Brandenburg region, but to damage Germany’s image as an industrial location,” said Kai Wegner, the CDU/CSU spokesperson for buildings policy in the German parliament. “We must not underestimate the effect on our public image that delaying such a mega-project would have.”  

Christian Lindner, head of the pro-business Free Democrats, told reporters that he sees "with concern that we all too often put the brakes on major projects in Germany,” while several business associations, including the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the German Association for Small and Medium-sized Businesses (BVMW) also expressed alarm, Der Spiegel reports.

In an opinion piece for the business daily Handelsblatt, Thomas Sigmund argues that using environmental concerns to block the construction of an electric car factory is “madness”, adding that local environmental activists in Germany have been given too much power to stop projects. “Everyone in politics knows that the Tesla project in Brandenburg must not fail. It has great symbolic value for Germany,” Sigmund writes. “If Elon Musk drops out, the country will be embarrassed before the whole world.” In contrast, in a commentary for Süddeutsche Zeitung, Michael Bauchmüller points out that Tesla doesn't yet have a permit for its full project, and asks  what people complaining about the delay would say if their neighbour called in the bulldozers before having a construction permit. Bauchmüller says it's worth clarifying the legal question of whether an investor can clear a site for a new project without the final permit. "This is not just about Tesla and the forest: It's about the rights of the environment," Bauchmüller writes.

Tesla announced plans in November to invest several billion euros in the factory outside Berlin. The project, which will produce both electric cars and batteries, has been hailed as a potential gamechanger for the German e-car industry, but has also faced questions about its local environmental impact and potential use of government subsidies.

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