Bundestag set to vote on German Autobahn speed limit

Germany's Autobahn is famous for having zones with no speed restrictions. But the Greens are calling for a vote in the Bundestag in a bid to change this.

Bundestag set to vote on German Autobahn speed limit
A speed limit sign in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Photo: DPA

Members of Germany's Parliament, the Bundestag, could take a vote on Thursday on whether to introduce a speed limit of 130 kilometres per hour on the Autobahn from January 2020.

In Germany, there has been a decades-long dispute asking if a general speed limit should be imposed on the country's world-famous Autobahn.

Some argue that putting a general speed limit in place, usually touted as 130km/h, would make roads safer and reduce carbon emissions.  

However, for many people inside and outside Germany, the speed limit-free motorways are a strong part of the country's car-loving culture and history.

In a survey by The Local in May, Just over 70 percent of readers rejected the idea of imposing a general speed limit on the Autobahn network.

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

As the Local reported, the Greens put forward a motion urging for a speed limit earlier this year.

“Anyone who wants to make motorways safer and traffic flow more smoothly must introduce a speed limit,” Green parliamentary party leader Anton Hofreiter told DPA.

The Greens have requested a roll-call vote on the motion in the Bundestag on Thursday.

“We call on the coalition to put aside its ideological blockade and vote in favour of our motion,” he added.

Hofreiter has previously said Germany “is the last government in Europe to ignore the logical arguments on the speed limit”.

Greens politician Sven Kindler tweeted a map of speed limits across Europe and said Germany had a chance to end its transport policy.

READ ALSO: Eight things you never knew about the German Autobahn

However, the government, made up of a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democrats SPD ruled out an Autobahn speed limit earlier this year.

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer previously said the idea of imposing limits “defies all common sense.”

Germany is the only country in Europe with no official speed limit on its motorways. However, about 30 percent of the Autobahn currently has a speed limit, according to Statista.

In Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, France and the Czech Republic there is a 130km/h limit on the motorway network. Meanwhile, in Belgium and Switzerland, a 120km/h limit is in place.

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ANALYSIS: Greens face dashed hopes – and new leverage in German vote aftermath

With growing fears about global warming, deadly floods linked to climate change and a new political landscape as Angela Merkel leaves the stage, it should have been the German Greens' year.

ANALYSIS: Greens face dashed hopes - and new leverage in German vote aftermath
The Greens co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck at the Greens' election event in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

After launching their campaign for Sunday’s general election in the spring with a youthful, energetic candidate in Annalena Baerbock, the sky seemed to be the limit – perhaps even taking the chancellery.

But although Germany has never seen an election campaign so focused on the climate crisis, the party turned in a third-place finish behind the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), leading the race by a whisker, and the outgoing Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

However Baerbock, 40, proved popular with young voters and her party with around 14 percent strongly improved on its 8.9 percent score from four years ago.

It is now widely expected to play a key kingmaker role in the coalition haggling to form a government.

“We wanted to win the chancellery, unfortunately that wasn’t possible,” Baerbock said late Sunday.

“We made mistakes but we have a clear mandate for our country and we will respect it. This country needs a government that will fight global warming – that’s the voters’ message.”

A fateful series of missteps by Baerbock as well as a perhaps more tepid appetite for change among Germans than first hoped saw the Greens’ initial
lead fizzle by early summer.

LIVE: Centre-left Social Democrats edge ahead in German election results

It never recovered.

“It was a historic chance for the Greens,” Der Spiegel wrote in a recent cover story on Baerbock’s “catastrophic mistakes”.

“The Greens stand like no other party for the big issue of our time but that doesn’t begin to ensure that they win majorities. They need a broader base.”

Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

‘Shameless and complacent’

Baerbock captured the imagination of Germans when she announced her candidacy in April, and her promise of a fresh start after 16 years of Merkel rocketed the party to the top of the polls.

But by this week, even her co-party leader Robert Habeck admitted that the Greens had been forced to set their sights lower.

“The distance to the chancellery has grown quite large of course,” he told the daily Die Welt.

“We saw that our political rivals didn’t have much interest in change and kept saying ‘Yes, yes, climate protection is nice but it shouldn’t be too expensive’.

Without recognising that not protecting the climate is the most expensive answer.”

He said the Greens’ rivals “want to continue the Merkel era in the campaign, as shameless and complacent as possible”.

‘Hold all the cards’

Critics sought to portray the Greens as a “prohibition party” that would lead to rises in petrol, electricity and air ticket prices.

The party has advocated stopping coal energy by 2030 instead of the current 2038, and wants production of combustion engine cars to end from the same year.

While Germans pay lip service to climate protection, a recent poll for the independent Allensbach Institute found 55 percent oppose paying more to ensure it.

“The Germans have decades of prosperity and growth behind them – there were hardly limits and that burned its way deep into the public consciousness,” Spiegel said.

“Doing without is linked to dark times – triggering memories among the very old of (wartime) turnip soup and alienation among the young used to having more and more to choose from.”

On the other hand climate activists, who rallied in their hundreds of thousands across Germany on Friday, said even the Greens’ ambitious programme would fall short in heading off climate-linked disasters in the coming decades.   

Meanwhile Baerbock’s relative inexperience was laid bare under the hot campaign spotlight.

“She overestimated her abilities and then she doubted herself – not a good combination,” Ursula Münch, director of the Academy for Political Education
near Munich, told AFP.

“She should have been more patient and waited until next time.”

Despite the sobering outcome, the Greens nevertheless look well-placed to make the most of a junior role, under either SPD candidate Olaf Scholz or the

Armin Laschet, political analyst Karl-Rudolf Korte told ZDF public television as the results came in.

He said “all eyes” would be on the Greens and the other potential kingmaker, the pro-business Free Democrats, who came in fourth place with about 11.5 percent.

“Those two parties hold all the cards,” he said.

By Deborah COLE