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POLITICS

Should Germany impose an Autobahn speed limit to fight climate change?

A fierce debate has been ignited among German politicians over whether to impose a 130km-an-hour speed limit on the Autobahn after the September elections.

Drivers on the Autobahn in Lower Saxony.
Drivers on the Autobahn in Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

The move is intended to limit the CO2 emissions caused by the famous lack of a speed limit on parts of the German motorway, as well as make roads safer. 

It would be one of the first policies that the Green Party would implement if voted into power in September’s election, joint leader Robert Habeck told regional radio station BW24 in June.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD), who have been the junior partner in the governing coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) since 2013, have also committed to impose a speed limit if elected as the largest party this autumn.

But head of the CDU Armin Laschet – who is bidding to replace Merkel as chancellor of Germany – ruled out the idea on Monday, branding it “illogical”.

READ ALSO: How our readers feel about imposing a speed limit on Germany’s Autobahn

“The key is to improve the technologies instead of having nonsensical debates such as the one about a general speed limit,” he told the German Editorial Network (RDN).

“Why shouldn’t an electric vehicle that does not cause CO2 emissions be allowed to drive faster than 130? That is illogical.”

 64 percent of Germans in favour of a speed limit

Germany’s Autobahn is the only stretch of European soil without a general speed limit. 

READ ALSO: The German rules of the road that are hard to get your head around

Around half of the federal motorway only has a “recommended” speed limit of 130km per hour, meaning that drivers can exceed this limit with no firm repercussions.

According to a recent poll, almost two thirds (64 percent) of Germans are in favour of changing this – meaning chancellor candidate Laschet may not be entirely in step with the electorate on this issue.

Speaking to Bild am Sonntag in June after the Greens and SPD announced their commitment to the pledge, Laschet said he didn’t believe the move would be effective at reducing emissions.

“There are few routes in Germany on which you can drive faster than 130km during the day, so that a speed limit would have relatively little effect on CO2 emissions,” he told the Sunday newspaper. 

READ ALSO: Fact check: Will a speed limit on Germany’s Autobahn be beneficial?

Writing on Twitter, transport expert Giulio Mattioli explained that the lack of of a generalised speed limit of Germany’s motorways is responsible for producing 1.9 million tonnes of CO2 each year – more than the entire annual carbon emissions of more than 50 countries.

Dealing with Laschet’s comments on the prevalence of electric cars, Mattioli further pointed out that, at present, just 0.6 percent of German cars are fully electric.

According to Hamburg’s Green Party candidate, Katharina Beck, ten percent of the CDU’s carbon emission reduction targets for transport could be met simply by imposing a speed limit of 130km on the Autobahn. 

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FRANCE AND GERMANY

France’s Macron makes plea to defend democracy on German state visit

Emmanuel Macron arrived Sunday in Berlin on the first state visit to Germany by a French president in a quarter century, bringing a plea to defend democracy against nationalism at upcoming European elections.

France's Macron makes plea to defend democracy on German state visit

Macron made an appearance at a democracy festival his first stop, where, accompanied by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, he warned of a “form of fascination for authoritarianism which is growing” in the two major EU nations.

“We forget too often that it’s a fight” to protect democracy, Macron said.

If the nationalists had been in power in Europe in the last years, “history would not have been the same”, he said, pointing to decisions on the coronavirus pandemic or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We need an alliance of democrats in Europe,” said Steinmeier.

Macron “has rightly pointed out that the conditions today before the European elections is different from the previous election, a lot has happened”.

‘Europe is mortal’

The trip comes two weeks ahead of European elections where polls show, in a major potential embarrassment for Macron, that his coalition is trailing well behind the far right and may struggle to even reach third place.

In Germany too, all three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition are polling behind the far-right AfD in surveys, despite a series of scandals embroiling the anti-immigration party.

In a keynote address on foreign policy last month, Macron issued a dire warning about the threats to Europe in a changing world in the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

“Our Europe, today, is mortal and it can die,” Macron said. “It can die and this depends only on our choices.”

Ramping up his warning in Berlin, Macron urged Europeans “to go vote for the party that we back and a party that defends Europe”.

After the talks with Steinmeier in Berlin on Sunday, Macron is due to bring his message to Dresden in the former East German Saxony state, where the AfD has a strong supporter base.

Tuesday sees Macron in the western German city of Munster and later in Meseberg, outside Berlin, for talks with Scholz and a Franco-German joint cabinet meeting.

READ ALSO: European elections: The 5 numbers you need to understand the EU

‘Awkward’

Beyond making joint calls for the European elections, Macron’s three-day visit will seek to emphasise the historic importance of the post-war relationship between the two key EU states, as France next month commemorates 80 years since the D-Day landings that marked the beginning of the end of German World War II occupation.

But all has not been smooth in a relationship often seen as the engine of the EU, and German officials said to be uneasy at times about his often-theatrical style of foreign policy.

In a question-and-answer session on social media with young people this month, Macron enlisted help from Scholz when asked if the Franco-German “couple” was still working.

“Hello dear friends, long live French-German friendship!” Scholz said in French in a video on Macron’s X feed. “Thank you Olaf! I very much agree with you,” Macron replied in heavily accented German.

Officials from both sides are at pains to emphasise that while there are periodic tensions on specific issues, the fundamental basis of the relationship remains sound.

But Macron’s refusal to rule out sending troops to Ukraine sparked an unusually acidic response from Scholz that Germany had no such plans. Germany also does not share Macron’s enthusiasm for a European strategic autonomy less dependent on the United States.

“The Franco-German relationship is about disagreeing and trying to find ways of compromise,” said Helene Miard-Delacroix, specialist in German history at the Sorbonne university in Paris.

Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at risk analysis firm Eurasia Group, said relations between France and Germany “remain awkward, verging on hostile”.

“On the big issues, little progress should be expected,” he said on X.

While Macron is a frequent visitor to Berlin, the trip is the first state visit in 24 years following a trip by Jacques Chirac in 2000 and the sixth since the first post-war state visit by Charles de Gaulle in 1962.

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