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

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

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

  1. "Circuits that are not permanent fall outside of the scope of the EIA Directive."

    What part of that sentence am I not understanding? Admittedly I did not read in detail all the issues, but as a "temporary" street circuit, why isn’t Valencia exempt???

  2. sajonaraman said on 23rd April 2008, 5:48

    Oh, c’mon Hammerstein and the likes of you… We’ll all be soon driving bicycles instead of cars in the cities anyway(oh yes… Ken Livingstone’s ghost shell haunt metropolies in the whole EU in a short future), so why don’t you leave us-petrolheads and motofreaks- some fun??? And if you’re so brave why don’t you try to sabotage the Monaco GP?? Haha, you’d be thrown into a dungeon the moment Prince Albert gets to know your plans:))) And I’ll swallow the keys myself so you just rotted in there while me and my kind shell breath the smell of a high octane fuel and burning rubber…

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd April 2008, 7:19

    GeorgeK – yes, but that only refers to one directive as I understand. The later points still stand. It’s all hideously complicated!

  4. I think nothing will happen excpet someone may get fined.

    At the same time I also hope nothing will happen as I am all set already for the Valencia trip …

  5. Journeyer said on 23rd April 2008, 7:51

    Hang on, milos.  So you’re going to both Valencia AND Singapore? Wow!

  6. It does seem very complicated but Hammerstein is saying (as Keith has it):

    "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."

    i.e. He’s claiming that because they are having to alter roads they are effectively creating a new permanent race track.

    The question will come down to if legally if circuits that are not permanent are ones that "aren’t race tracks all the time" or "only use temporary structures".

    My guess is that this leaves enough wiggle room for the race to go ahead.

  7. I´m from Spain, sorry for my English, but a want to say that you had explained everything very well. The main problem is de acustic environmental-impact, this race has being organized very fast and the politicians has forgotten the reports about this problems and this is why the UE are investigating. The other problem is a politician problem, the elections has been won by the socialyst (PSOE)(in the left side) but in the valencia region the local goberment belongs to the opposition party (PP)(the right side) and it may be a frontal confrontation between diferent interests. If it depends on the Spanish goverment nothing is going to happen but if UE attack may be next year this Gp will disappear.

    • Bartholomew said on 21st July 2009, 1:02

      Yes, this is what it is : the central socialist government is envious of the success of the Valencia regional government ( a center – right party ), and they are trying to make life dificult for them by unleashing Greens and other similar nuisances by the UE.

      President Zapatero is a slimy snake in the grass, and whenever he sees some other political party in Spain doing something well, and the people having fun , he has to try to spoil the fun

  8. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd April 2008, 9:48

    Thanks for that Antuan. A lot of the links above have more information that’s in Spanish if you want to take a look at them and perhaps let us know if they contain any useful information?

  9. vaibhav singh said on 23rd April 2008, 15:03

    does monaco circuit also come under this ‘noise environment impact’?? is monaco part of EU?i have never heard of it.

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd April 2008, 15:05

    The Monaco Grand Prix started in the 1920s so it pre-dates the creation of the European Union – I bet they’re exempt somehow.

  11. Valencia street circuit may not be permanent, but it will require roads to be constructed. Otherwise, according to the map of the circuit on here, we’ll have F1 cars falling off the end of the harbour. As a result, it should fall under Annex II (10) (e) of Directive 85/337/EEC, even if it is considered only a temporary circuit…

    Hammerstein is probably looking at it from the perspective that if a huge public project is permitted to ignore the environmental rules, then so would any other project. It’s worth pointing out that he’s not complaining about the Valencia Grand Prix on principle (though he is very much against non-sustainable transport, including biofuels if one of his blogs is to be believed), only that several planning rules, referring to documentation either not completed or not revealed when requested, were contravened in the process of organising it so far.

  12. Monaco isn’t in the EU anyway. It just so happens to be next door to some fairly large EU members…

  13. tincho said on 23rd April 2008, 22:07

    Hammerstein vs Valencia government is a long issue. He first sued them for the very controversial RAU (a law controling the organisation of the land) He was right about that one but this time just sound personal to me. 

  14. Toncho said on 23rd April 2008, 22:08

    Sorry about the nick thing :-)

  15. Steve K said on 23rd April 2008, 22:23

    Good, now we could just move the race to the states.  Watkins Glen?  Sonoma?  Or have another talk with Mr. George.  I am sure someone in Vegas could come up with a course on short notice.

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