Baden-Württemberg Elections Greens Inherit Billion-Euro Bomb

After the euphoria of their stunning election victory comes the reality of government: The Greens and the SPD face billion-euro problems in Baden-Württemberg. Withdrawing from the controversial Stuttgart 21 project would be vastly expensive, and the newly-nationalized energy giant EnBW could also turn out to be a bottomless money pit.

Opposition to Stuttgart's train station redesign, called Stuttgart 21, has been vocal.
AFP

Opposition to Stuttgart's train station redesign, called Stuttgart 21, has been vocal.


The celebrations are still fresh in the memory for the Greens, who achieved their best-ever result in a regional election in Baden-Württemberg on Sunday -- meaning they are now set to lead a state government coalition for the first time, demoting the Social Democrats (SPD) to junior partner status.

But does the Green revolution in the southwest of Germany also mean an end for the highly controversial "Stuttgart 21" train station project? During the campaign, the party promised that people in Baden-Württemberg would be allowed to vote on the issue. A negative referendum outcome would change everything in the state.

In fact, it would cause real problems for the Greens: Calling a halt to Stuttgart 21, an expensive scheme to replace tracks and platforms in Stuttgart's main rail station and redevelop the heart of the city, would prompt legal action for damages from Deutsche Bahn (DB). The German railway company has binding contracts for the project. The cost of getting out of them would have to be borne by the taxpayer. DB, meanwhile, has suspended all work on the project until the new government is in place.

Stuttgart 21 is only one of the large building projects that Winfried Kretschmann, set to become the state's new Minister President, must consider. The second is no less tricky -- Stefan Mappus, the outgoing Minister President, nationalized the energy giant EnBW during the election campaign.

But the company, which relies more than its German rivals on nuclear power, has seen its business model thrown into confusion by the disaster in Japan. The financing of the €5.9 billion ($8.3 billion) sale through the state is therefore also in question. The business should be self-financing, with the EnBW share dividend paying interest on the loan. "If the interest is lower than the dividends, we will land on our feet," Kretschmann said Monday. It was clear "that we must shoulder a difficult legacy there."

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