Outrage over Tenerife port petition closure

ENDS Europe DAILY 2099, 17/05/06

Politicians and officials have expressed astonishment at a decision by the European parliament's petitions committee to close an investigation into the EU's handling of a port construction project in Tenerife, Spain.

The committee closed three petitions lodged by opponents of the project on 3 May, even though the European commission has yet to decide whether the plans breach EU nature laws.

"I am outraged," Spanish Green MEP David Hammerstein told ENDS. "This a tremendous and absolutely irregular manipulation of the parliamentary process, pushed by political pressures from Spain that have nothing to do with the treatment of a very delicate environment and economic issue."

Spain is awaiting EU permission to build the port in an area protected by the 1992 habitats directive, citing an "overriding public interest".  A commission investigation into the scheme is ongoing.  Large amounts of EU funding rest on its decision.

The industrial port of Granadilla is supported by the local Canary Islands government and by national governing and opposition parties in Madrid, despite significant local grassroots opposition.

Opponents say the port is unnecessary and that alternative options, such as expanding existing facilities, have not been explored.  They turned to the petitions committee, whose role is to question the commission on grievances brought to it by EU citizens.

Mr Hammerstein was the sole MEP to vote for keeping the petitions open until the commission decides on the case.  He was outvoted by five Spanish socialist and popular party members.  Apart from the Polish chairman, no other members of the 25-strong committee were present.

Normally all petitions before the committee remain open if proceedings are still ongoing within the commission, or if at least one political group supports the petition.  Votes are rare.  A committee administrator acknowledged the closure had been "rather unusual".

Spanish socialist MEP Manuel Medina Ortega, who voted to terminate the petition, rejected allegations of foul play.  "The commission has been discussing this for three years and is handling it beautifully," he told ENDS.  "It didn't make any sense for the committee to have a double inquiry."  In any case it was "not the kind of issue that raises a lot of concern for the petitions committee," he added.

But commission officials present at the meeting were left shocked by the vote.  "I've never seen anything like it," one told ENDS.  "If the commission has not come to a decision, I don't see how they can be satisfied that all issues have been addressed.  I'm astounded they would take such a cynical political approach."

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