After fighting over who was going to pay for it for over 15 years and more than a year after hammering out the text of an agreement, Germany and Denmark are finally going to sign a treaty next week to build an enormous bridge between their countries by 2018.
Germany's Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee and his Danish counterpart Carina Christensen are scheduled to meet next Wednesday in Copenhagen to sign the treaty allowing the construction of the €5.6 billion ($8.2 billion) bridge that will span the 19-kilometer (11.8-mile) divide between Puttgarden on the German island of Fehmarn and Rødby on the Danish island of Lolland. Both islands are in the Baltic Sea.
Once the treaty is signed, it will still need the approval of the Danish and German parliaments.
The bridge will significantly speed rail traffic and reduce driving times between Hamburg and Copenhagen from the current approximately four hours to about three. It will also make trade between northern Scandinavia and the European mainland much easier as it will complement the 17-kilometer (10.5-mile) Oresend Bridge completed in 2000 between the Swedish city of Malmo and Copenhagen.
The original agreement to build the bridge was reached in June 2007 following 15 years of protracted financial negotiations. At the time of the 2007 agreement, Tiefensee said: "This bridge, which connects peoples, is not only designed to decrease the traveling time between Hamburg and Copenhagen, but it is also important for the pan-European transport infrastructure. Today has also been a good day for Europe."
According to the treaty to be signed Wednesday, most of the money required for the bridge's construction (€4.8 billion) will come from the Danish side, as it is thought to benefit more from the project than Germany will. Germany's federal government and the state of Schleswig-Holstein will jointly contribute €800,000 to link the bridge's traffic into its own highway and railway infrastructure.
The terms of the agreement foresee Germany not having a share in the bridge's ownership, as Denmark is expected to benefit most from the structure.
Although the plan is supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, it has many German detractors. Residents of coastal communities both surrounding Puttgarden and near Rostock fear that the bridge might lead to fewer jobs, such as those in the ferry industry. Environmental protection groups fear the project might damage the ecology in the area. Germany Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel has himself called the plan "a loony idea."