Categorization in the concept: "very low" relevance (red) on the Lower Elbe, "low" (brown) on the Gieselau Canal, "very high" (purple) in the east
In the coalition agreement between the CDU / CSU and the SPD, the federal government previously stipulated the creation of a water tourism concept in order to gain clarity on key issues relating to the future of leisure boating, among other things. This concept is now available with a considerable delay (you can view it directly here). However: Anyone who hoped for clarity will be disappointed by the paper from the Federal Ministry of Transport.
The concept remains vague in essential aspects. It only becomes concrete with the demand for an administration separated from commercial shipping and a more refined categorization of the secondary waterways.
It makes sense that "the recreational waterways and natural waters" in the future "should basically be managed in a separate organizational branch with its own staff and material budget". Waterways with freight transport have so far been in competition with the branch lines for limited financial resources, with, of course, clear priorities. This competition would be off the table with its own budget and administration.
It also makes economic sense to stop investing heavily in rarely used bodies of water. Such waterways could be fed into another government project, the “Blue Ribbon”. This is a federal program "to promote the renaturation of rivers and floodplains". It naturally pursues very different interests than the Bundestag initiative. "Improving the infrastructure and marketing for water tourism in Germany", there is a certain potential for conflict in this.
Winners and losers have been determined
If the legislation were to follow the direction given by the concept, then in future the funds would flow on a large scale mainly to Mecklenburg and Brandenburg, where the waterways are consistently recognized as being of "very high" or "high" importance for tourism. Because the paper, on the other hand, recognizes only a "low" or "very low" relevance for other secondary waterways, the losers are already certain: the tributaries of the Lower Elbe and the Gieselau Canal (and thus indirectly the Eider). There should no longer be expected to be maintenance from the state.
There is no clear statement about ThemGeld
It gets downright nebulous in the paper on ThemFinancing. It is supposed to come "predominantly" from the federal budget, nonetheless "possible user financing options were considered":
• Shipping fees depending on the distance covered (commonly known as: toll) • Smuggling taxes • Boat vignettes • Taxation of boat
But also: • a continuation of the status quo and • a variant that the users are not involved in the refinancing
Translated means: "Anything goes" - as far as money is concerned, everything remains open; maybe something changes, but maybe not. Interesting, however, that not long ago the Ministry of Transport assured that a vignette for pleasure craft was "not provided", nor was there a "pleasure boat toll". Among other things, said a spokesman, because "effort and income would be in no relation to each other". The spokesman even explicitly promised that the vignette option would not play a role in the water tourism concept developed at the time and now published.
Contrary to this statement, the supposedly mothballed words "toll", "vignette" and "boat tax" are given a new topicality. Some formulations in the paper ("individual and cost-covering travel fees", "stronger user financing to increase the refinancing level", "participation of water tourists in the refinancing") also indicate a thorough change of heart in the ministry: boat owners could definitely be asked to pay - the paper explicitly cites the example of Great Britain, where owners allegedly paid an average of 570 euros in the 2009/10 financial year without complaint.
It is obvious that there is a significant financial requirement. After all, at least 65 million euros are only estimated for "operation and maintenance of the water tourism infrastructure" - without new investments. Some experts already consider this figure to be very tight.
The paper leaves essential questions unanswered
As with money, the paper remains vague when it comes to mentioning "alternative forms of operation" for certain stretches of water. 2,800 kilometers of waterways are to be removed from the waterways and shipping administration - but then? The federal states are brought into discussion as operators, but Schleswig-Holstein's Minister of Economic Affairs Reinhard Meyer (SPD) has already declined: "a poisoned gift". Municipalities could also take care of maintenance such as foundations or private legal entities such as a GmbH or AG. It seems certain that uniform regulations may at least be difficult to implement with such a patchwork and conflicting interests.
All in all, the eagerly anticipated concept is too often weak - in too many essential aspects it does not provide the answer to pressing questions. This may be done consciously so as not to snub those affected for the further process, such as environmentalists or boat owners. But such vagueness does not seem wise, because it rekindles the fear of plans that have long since seemed off the table.