Long-awaited direct negotiations between opponents and supporters of the Stuttgart 21 rail renovation project began Friday morning, without the halt to construction work that the opposition had previously demanded.
It wasn't clear until Thursday night if talks would happen
Long-awaited negotiations between opponents and supporters of the Stuttgart 21 rail renovation project began Friday morning, with some in the strong and vocal opposition saying they were optimistic.
Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Baden-Wuerttemberg State Premier Stefan Mappus said he wanted to make the debate over the project "more transparent."
"We want to show people why we see Stuttgart 21 as an important project for Baden-Wuerttemberg, why it's a project that will last for generations," he said. "We also want to back everything up with facts and move beyond emotions, so that everyone can understand it based on concrete arguments."
Two hours into the discussions, project opponents broke them off to confer with each other before resuming them later in the afternoon. Sources close to the talks said both sides disagreed on the conditions for how to proceed.
Hannes Rockenbauch, spokesman for the opposition to the project, said on Wednesday morning that he was looking forward to speaking directly to the project's supporters.
"We're really excited, because we want to have this public fact-check," he told public television ARD. "We're hoping that the state government and rail authorities are really ready for this, because for us it means that they won't be allowed to create any more 'facts' while this public fact-check is ongoing."
Protestors had previously demanded a construction halt before talks
He added that he wanted to give the state, federal and rail authorities a final chance to explain "disproportionate police actions" that took place on September 30, when police used water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray against protestors that they said had turned violent.
Despite the negotiations, Rockenbauch said another demonstration against the project would go ahead as planned on the weekend.
Rockenbauch is joined by six other opponents of Stuttgart 21, including environmental activists and state Green party and Social Democrat politicians. The other side includes Mappus, state Transport Minister Tanja Goenner and Volker Kefer from the German rail company Deutsche Bahn.
The state-appointed arbitrator in the debate, veteran politician Heiner Geissler of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, announced Thursday evening after four hours of talks with the project's opponents that negotiations between both sides would take place.
Up until that point the opposition had refused to hold any negotiations with the state authorities until all construction work on the project was put on hold. On October 5, Mappus instead ordered a moratorium on demolition work to last until November.
A major sticking point for opponents remains in the construction of a cement tank for underground water management, as well as the degree of public access to the disussions. Rockenbauch and other opponents have called for the video of future meetings to be carried live on the Internet.
Legal reprimand for builders
In a parallel development, a Stuttgart administrative court found on Thursday that the project's leaders had incorrectly filed their application to cut down trees in the city's palace gardens as part of the project.
The project would move the train station underground
The environmental group Friends of the Earth Germany had filed an emergency application to halt the tree-cutting, claiming it would endanger a rare species of beetle that lives in the trees.
The court said it may have granted the emergency stop, but the Federal Railway Authority did not provide proper documentation of the project's environmental protection plans, which included research on how the tree-cutting would affect the beetle.
Meanwhile the renovation project, which would move the rail station underground and turn it from a terminus to a through-station, gained public support from European Commission Transport Minister Siim Kallas.
"The high-speed route between Paris and Bratislava is an extremely important trans-European west-east axis," Kallas told the Rheinische Post newspaper. "Stuttgart 21 represents a key element of this thoroughfare."
Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Rob Turner