Stuttgart 21, a multibillion railway and urban-redevelopment project is going ahead in Stuttgart, despite the fact that it offers hardly any benefits for the German rail network and that the money would be better spent on other, more promising projects.
It is the aim of the controversial project, to eliminate the biggest bottleneck on the high-speed route from Paris to Bratislava. A tunnel system and new highs-speed trains are supposed to create a high-speed rail connection throughout Europe. Beside the facts that the 13 hour train ride from Paris to Bratislava can not at all be competitive with air travel, and that for example the improvement of the railway between Stuttgart and Paris would be a more promising and significantly cheaper project, two other reasons for opposition are prominent these days in Germany: Trees, and money.
In the past days, locals from Stuttgart have been sitting in the branches of the trees in the city’s Schlossgarten Park, which are supposed to fall victim to the Stuttgart 21 project. Not only the cut down trees will change the landscape of the city, but also the remodeling of the central station – a historical registry – into an underground station will change the appearance of Stuttgart significantly. Beside these changes, that only seem to be highly relevant for locals of Baden-Württemberg, it is the funding of the project that draws the attention and concern from outside the state. Current estimates put the costs of building the subterranean station in Stuttgart at €4.1 billion ($5.38 billion). The funding for this project comes from the federal government, the state government, the European Union, and Germany’s national railway operator Deutsche Bahn.
While for the cut down trees in the park new trees will be planted, the only way to justify the investment of tax money into this high-speed line would be to guarantee that it will attract a lot more passengers to this particular route. Experts say that this is not in the cards. To make it worse, even higher costs will be expected as the trains that will be allowed to travel on those tracks will be extraordinarily expensive due to the high demands on their engines and brakes.
With the aforementioned demonstrations in Stuttgart, the debate on Stuttgart 21 took a political turn that could make the project into an important topic in the Baden-Württemberg state elections next March: Chancellor Angela Merkel, known for her non-confrontational political style, has strongly pushed for the project last week. For Merkel, the project is a symbol of Germany’s “future viability”. Not only Germany’s role in Europe is reason for Merkel’s support of the project, but she also has her party’s interest in mind. She knows that the CDU cannot afford to loose the Baden-Württemberg election. The state is known as a conservative support, and is currently reigned by a coalition of CDU and FDP, the same constellation as her national government. If the CDU looses Baden-Württemberg, Merkel’s coalition in Berlin would look shaky, too. Therefor, Merkel is siding with Stefan Mappus, the CDU governor of the state, whose hardline views embody the opposite of Merkel’s modernization drive and her desire for political consensus between the opposition.
By supporting Stuttgart 21, Merkel and the CDU clearly oppose the Green Party’s effort to stop the project. The lines between left and right politics were clearly drawn on the state scale, and are expected to harden between government and opposition as well. The controversy about Stuttgart 21 might possibly lead to a significant change in politics in Germany.