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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.

Should Germany impose an Autobahn speed limit to fight climate change?
Drivers speed along the A1 near Bremen. 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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POLITICS

‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged once again to stand with Ukraine against Russia - but said Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up.

'Russia must not win this war,' says Germany's Scholz

Scholz said the war in Ukraine was the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history, but that solidarity was strong. 

“We are all united by one goal: Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must prevail,” Scholz said in the speech to the Bundestag on Thursday.

Putin thinks he can use bombs to dictate the terms for peace, the SPD politician said. 

“He’s wrong. He was wrong in judging the unity of Ukrainians, and the determination of our alliances. Russia will not dictate peace because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Scholz said it was only when Putin understands that he cannot break Ukraine’s defence capability that he would “be prepared to seriously negotiate peace”.

For this, he said, it is important to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. 

Scholz also pledged to help cut Europe free from its reliance on Russian energy. 

The Chancellor welcomed the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato. “With you at our side, Nato, Europe will become stronger and safer,” he said.

However, Scholz dampened expectations for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said on Thursday.

“It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest,” he said.

The chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

Scholz also called for other ways to help Ukraine in the short term, saying the priority was to “concentrate on supporting Ukraine quickly and pragmatically”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.

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