Tesla rages against German bureaucracy

In an open letter, the US automaker bemoans the slow pace of construction permit approval.

It's getting giga in Grünheide.
It's getting giga in Grünheide.Photo: Patrick Pleul

Berlin/Brandenburg- In a provocative letter, Tesla has complained that German bureacracy is hampering climate-friendly projects such as its new electric car factory in Brandenburg.

The factory has been sprouting out of the ground in Grünheide east of Berlin at breakneck pace since the project was first announced in November 2019. The first e-cars are expected to roll off the assembly line as early as July - the first Teslas produced in Europe.

Whether that will actually happen as planned is far from certain since Tesla has been building the plant on provisional, piecemeal permits. The overall permit, a prerequisite for the start of production, is still missing. It's an apt moment for Tesla to complain about the approval process as a whole.

In the statement released on Thursday, the company said the factory would contribute to the spread of e-mobility in the fight against global warming. "The German approval framework for industrial and infrastructure projects as well as for spatial planning is in direct contrast to the urgency of planning and realising such projects, which is necessary to fight climate change," Tesla complained.

Anzeige | Zum Weiterlesen scrollen

Tesla finds it "particularly irritating" that 16 months after the application was submitted, there is still no timetable for issuing a final permit. The carmaker considers the "most glaring problem" to be that in the current legal and procedural framework projects that combat climate change and those that accelerate it are treated equally.

Tesla chimes in

Tesla expressed its displeasure in the context of an ongoing case between environmental charity Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and the federal government before the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg. DUH is demanding that the German government be ordered to set up a programme to achieve the 2030 national climate protection target. Tesla filed the statement as a "friend of the court", as the company felt it was in the interest of the proceedings to share its experience.

For Umwelthilfe head Jürgen Resch, Tesla's offensive comes as a surprise. Nevertheless, he welcomes the letter as "beneficial". "The essential thing is that now momentum is being restored to the discussion on how we can cut back on this kind of over-bureaucratisation in Germany without grinding down the opportunities for civil society and environmental associations to participate," says Resch.

He also favours faster approval procedures in Germany so that climate targets can be met. Resch complains, for example, that authorities often reject the submission of documents by e-mail.

Wind power and fibre-optic expansion also face over-bureaucratisation

Tesla's auto plant is not an isolated case when it comes to German bureaucracy. For the construction of wind turbines, the average approval process lasts between four and five years, writes the German Wind Energy Association on its website. The expansion of fibre optics for faster internet is also hampered by slow approval. A joint statement by tech lobby groups Bundesverband Breitbandkommunikation and the Bundesverband Glasfaseranschluss from May 2018 speaks of "impairments, among other things, due to the duration of approval procedures".

In its statement, Tesla proposes 10 measures to simplify things. These include accelerated processes for sustainable projects and the consideration of indirect impacts on the environment. The US company believes that evidence of relatively insignificant local impacts is currently preventing positive projects from going ahead on a larger scale.

From the get-go, Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk have faced criticism from politicians and environmentalists over the Brandenburg factory, which has been called the biggest single new industrial project in eastern Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Work on the plant was repeatedly interrupted following the actions of environmental groups. Critical points included disruption of wildlife and risks to the region's drinking water supply. Whether the company's incendiary letter can speed up the approval process will become clear in July at the latest - when German-made Teslas might or might now emerge from the factory gates. (with dpa)

Berlin news in English.