How serious is the EU threat to the European Grand Prix at Valencia?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

EU flag, 470150

This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix is supposed to be the first of two races in Spain this year – the second being the European Grand Prix at the new Circuit Urbano Valencia.

But yesterday the European Union revealed objections to the Grand Prix on several grounds. There are growing doubts over whether the race, which has already sold out and is scheduled for the 22nd-24th August, may go ahead.

How serious are those doubts? Here’s the exchange of notes between the protesters and the EU that led to the investigation.

The campaigners

The campaign against the Grand Prix is being led by a group run by Spanish Green politician David Hammerstein. I don’t speak Spanish, so I can’t understand much of what’s written on either of his blogs, or what he says in his video diaries, but the imagery on one of his sites makes it pretty clear he’s not a fan of the automobile.

Hammerstein told Spanish news agency EFE yesterday:

It is possible that El Consell (the government of Valencia) has not done its homework regarding transparency and noise. Formula 1’s speed excess could create serious problems to the Valencian Government to comply with European law.

On February 1st he submitted a written question along with fellow Green politicians Monica Frassoni and Ra???l Romeva to the European Commission. He alleged that the circuit constructors had, “failed to carry out a full environmental-impact study either of the construction project or of the urban plan amending Valencia’s Plan General de Ordenaci???n Urbana city-planning scheme.”

He added:

The plan has been presented as alterations to avenues within a new residential district. This is intended to camouflage and to sow confusion regarding the true nature of the project: a new urban race track. By this means the authorities wished to evade the requirement to carry out an environmental-impact assessment, possibly in breach of Directive 85/337/EC(3) (the Environmental-Impact Assessment Directive, as amended by Directive 97/11/EC(4)).

Hammerstein claimed the track designers had not carried out a noise analysis and that the Generalitat (Regional Government) had not replied to a request for information from the Regional Ombudsman.

The European Union

The European Union has admitted an investigation into the circuit is under way and it is being headed by the Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas.

This came in a response from Dimas to Hammerstein & co. dated Monday 21st April (emphasis added):

The Commission has received information about the Formula 1 race track in Valencia.

Permanent racing and test tracks for motorized vehicles fall within Annex II (11) (a) of Directive 85/337/EEC as amended by Directive 97/11/EC and Directive 2003/35/EC (known as the environmental impact assessment or the EIA Directive). For projects included in Annex II of this Directive, Member States have to determine, before development consent is granted, if they are likely to have significant effects on the environment. Circuits that are not permanent fall outside of the scope of the EIA Directive.

Directive 2003/4/EC provides for public access to environmental information and repeals Council Directive 90/313/EEC. According to its Article 3, public authorities are required to make available environmental information held by or for them to any applicant at his request and without his having to state an interest. Information has to be made available to the applicant by precise deadlines laid down in the Directive. The information may be refused only on grounds envisaged in its Article 4. Remedies are provided for in Article 6 of the Directive when the applicant considers that his request has been ignored, wrongfully refused, in full or in part, inadequately answered or otherwise not dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Directive.

According to Articles 7(1) and 9 of the Directive 2002/49/EC strategic noise maps for the agglomerations of Valencia should have been drawn up by 30 June 2007 and should be made available and disseminated to the public in accordance with the Directive 2003/4/EC. The data from these maps should have also been communicated to the Commission no later than 30 December 2007 in accordance with Article 10(2) of the Directive. In a letter sent on October 2007 to the Spanish authorities, the Commission recalled these obligations. Given that, to date, the Commission has still not received any information on these maps, it is now considering initiating appropriate actions in accordance with the Article 226 of the EC Treaty. The Commission recalls that the strategic noise maps for agglomerations should at least show the average noise situation of the year 2006 and put a special emphasis on the noise emitted by road traffic (and other sources) which brings about noise levels beyond 55 Lden or beyond 50 Lnight. These maps should be reviewed, and revised if necessary, at least every five years after the date of their preparation.

As regards a potential violation of the EU public procurement rules in the tendering procedures relating to this project, the Commission will investigate this matter.

On the face of it, the Valencia race organisers did not heed the EU’s original warnings and now face investigation on grounds of lack of transparency and not carrying out environmental noise pollution surveys.

Local politics

The Valencia Grand Prix circuit has been at the centre of political disagreement since Bernie Ecclestone first approached the city about putting the race on the calendar.

When the deal was struck in May last year the agreement Ecclestone reached with the local government was criticised as it was believed to stipulate that the race would only go ahead if the government won re-election, which they eventually did.

In January the Valencia Circuit Blog reported there had been protests about the race because of the expense and inconvenience involved in its construction. Particularly as there is an F1-grade circuit not far from the city where the teams often test.

FIA versus EU: round two?

Race promotion is organised by Formula One Group and not the FIA – however the embarrassment that F1 could face if the race were cancelled would surely mean the FIA would have to get involved.

And it’s impossible to envisage how the FIA might intervene without taking into account the crisis faced by president Max Mosley at the moment. If an FIA representative were needed to argue F1’s case, would it be best served by someone who, in the eyes of the other people in the room, might be cast from his seat of power in disgrace in a few weeks’ time?

Ironically I suspect Mosley would love the chance to get stuck into the EU again. Last time the FIA and EU crossed swords Mosley came out on top – by quite a margin.

From 1997-2001 the EU tried to pin down the FIA on various complaints about its anti-competitive practices. Mosley hit back with his customary mix of legal aptitude and verbal venom, ridiculing the official who began the investigation, Karel van Miert.

At one point the FIA proved EU officials had broken their own rule sby leaking material to the press, and so received an apology in ??40,000 in compensation. The investigation was quietly concluded in 2001, with few of the EU’s objections being upheld.

But this time the EU doesn’t have four years to take action – the race is four months away. What will happen?

2008 European Grand Prix information