Though representatives of Slovakia and the consortium led by the Spanish firm Cintra ceremonially tapped the foundation stone of the Bratislava ring road last October, real construction works have not yet started. This is because the state has failed to acquire all the land on which the ring road will be built, as it still needs to acquire 0.5 percent of the total acreage — where it has failed to agree upon a price with the landowners.
Thus, the Robert Fico cabinet prepared legislation that enables construction works also on land with unsettled ownership rights and pushed it through parliament. Experts warn that the revision may end up being unconstitutional as was the case with similar legislation back in 2007. That time the state was expropriating plots under the R2 dual carriageway.
President Kiska believes that the bill represents significant interference in the fundamental right to own property. Therefore, he considers the line of reasoning presented by the submitter to be “inappropriate and untenable”.
“It is unacceptable to address managerial missteps committed by the National Highway Company or the Transport and Construction Ministry in the process of preparing and carrying out a single specific construction project via a legislative remedy that is not in line with the Constitution,” said President Andrej Kiska when vetoing the new legislation as cited by the TASR newswire.
The president is convinced that the approved legislation enables limiting the right of ownership in a way that cannot be qualified as limiting in an inevitable degree. He added that the need for such legally dubious redress has not even arisen from sudden and unforeseen circumstances and thus there is no justification for the fast-tracked procedure via which the parliament passed the bill.
The parliament passed the amendment to the law on one-off special measures adopted during the preparation of construction of certain highways and roads in a fast-track proceeding on May 16. As it introduces the so-called institute of preliminary holding, it will enable construction works on the plots under highways and express double-carriageways even before the expropriation proceeding is completed. But this institute enables only certain reversible construction works.
The Ministry of Transport and Construction prepared the bill to speed up completion of acquisition of lands on which the southern part of the Bratislava ring road, known also as the D4/R7 project, will be built. Yet it can also be used during the expropriation of lands under other highways and carriageways.
“The aim of the preliminary holding is to support better effectiveness and speed of preparing the highway construction in case the expropriation procedure is time consuming and blocked mostly by the owners of the plots and buildings who acquired them in a speculative way before the preparation works began,” explained the Transport Ministry, as quoted by TASR.
President Kiska vetoed the bill on May 18; the parliament overrode his veto later the same day.
Yet he opposition and some lawyers see the bill based on the preliminary holding as controversial and on the brink of being unconstitutional.
Lawyer Tomáš Kamenec from the PaulQ law firm has pointed out that ruling coalition deputies also included in the bill a change that excludes the suspensive effect of an appeal against a verdict on preliminary holding, or a verdict on expropriation and permission for construction of a highway. Kamenec warns that this may lead to, for example, damage to the nature in national parks.
“During proceedings involving the environment the principle of preliminary caution must be applied,” Kamenec told the Sme daily. “If, for example, construction is allowed of a highway via a national park based on a badly issued decision, even a court would be not able to stop this construction.”
The opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) has widely criticised this bill and is already preparing to send it to the Constitutional Court to determine whether it is in line with the constitution.
The Robert Fico cabinet has experience with unlawful expropriation. Back in 2007, when it needed to acquire land under what is now the R2 dual carriageway between Nitra and Banská Bystrica, it adopted legislation enabling fast expropriation. But later the Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional. Now the Transport Ministry assures that the new legislation is not at odds with the valid legislation.
State prepared to pay
Construction on the 59-km Bratislava ring road consisting of the D4 highway and the R7 dual carriageway from Bratislava towards Dunajská Streda should have had started in March. As the consortium led by the Spanish Cintra has not received all the plots and respective construction permits from the state, work is not yet in full swing.
In mid May Transport Minister Árpád Érsek conceded that problems have emerged with buying plots of land and pointed to speculators who want to make the largest possible profits out of land sales.
“There were some savvy people who knew where to buy land,” said Érsek, hinting that the same people were behind the speculation of land on which the British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover is now building its brand new plant near Nitra.
While the state expertise talks about €20 million for the last 0.5 percent of land, the around 10 owners of the land are asking some €55 million, according to TASR.
In total, the state has paid out about €310 million in 11,000 contracts for the land so far, while it has allocated €400 million for this purpose.
The ring road's future
It is still not clear whether the delay in acquisition of land will mean also a postponement of completion of the ring road.
If the consortium fails to complete the project in time, i.e. until 2020, due to late acquisition of land, the state may have to pay a penalty to the consortium.
The ring road should make it easier for people from villages around the capital to commute to Bratislava and ease the traffic burden in the capital.
The consortium Obchvat Nula led by Spanish Cintra Infraestructuras International won the tender when it offered to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the Bratislava ring road project within a public-private partnership (PPP) project for an annual instalment of €56.72 million. In total the state should pay the consortium €1.9 billion when inflation is taken into consideration over 30 years. The contract was signed last May.