Greenpeace pressures German government for transparency in Vattenfall dispute

By Damon Vis-Dunbar
15 July 2009

Arbitration proceedings between the Government of Germany and the Swedish energy utility Vattenfall should be conducted transparently, argue a coalition of non-governmental organizations.

Greenpeace Germany and the World Economy, Ecology and Development organization are pressing the German Government to reverse its policy of not commenting or disclosing information related to the Vattenfall arbitration proceedings.  Earlier this month, Greenpeace sent a letter to the German Minister of Economics and Technology, Dr. Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg, requesting assurances that his ministry would endorse transparency in the Vattenfall v. Germany arbitration.

“This dispute poses a real danger to critical environmental measures and for that reason alone needs to be conducted in an open and transparent manner,” said Juergen Knirsch of Greenpeace Germany, in an interview with ITN.

Vattenfall brought the German government to international arbitration in April over a dispute related to measures imposed on a coal-fired power plant under construction near the Elbe River.

Specifically, Vattenfall argues that restrictions imposed by the City of Hamburg on cooling water used and discharged by the plant would make the project uneconomical, and run counter to earlier assurances provided by Hamburg officials.

A city official defends the restrictions in the water permit, however, explaining to ITN that they are necessary under a European Union directive on water quality, the EU Water Framework Directive. All industries along the Elbe River have also faced restrictions in an effort to reach the “ambitious” goals required under the EU directive, said this person.

According to Vattenfall’s request for arbitration, the Swedish firm seeks approximately 1.4 billion Euros in compensation for alleged violations of the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT). The ECT is a multilateral agreement governing investments in the energy sector, and contains investment protections similar to those found in bilateral investment treaties.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development, the publishers of ITN, have prepared a legal brief for Greenpeace on the Vattenfall dispute, featuring a discussion of the ECT’s implications for environmental law and policy making.**

The Vattenfall dispute has garnered wide-spread coverage in the German news media in recent weeks, including a feature in the online edition of the German weekly Der Spiegel. ***

*Vattenfall’s request for arbitration is available here:

**The IISD’s Background paper on the Vattenfall v. Germany dispute is available here:
(An updated version of the IISD background paper, taking into account the information contained in Vattenfall’s request for arbitration, will be made available next week. )

***The Der Spiegel feature on the Vattenfall dispute with Germany, published on 11 July 2009, is available here:,1518,635520,00.html