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EXPLAINED: Could Germany introduce a motorway speed limit?

More and more politicians are adding their voices to the call for introducing a speed limit on German motorways. But how likely is it that the policy will come into force?

A speed limit traffic sign on the A24
A road patrol officer holds a traffic sign on the A24 autobahn with the speed limit 130 kilometers per hour. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

What’s the background?

The German Autobahn is the only stretch of motorway in Europe where many sections don’t have a speed limit, and the issue of introducing one is highly contentious.

During coalition negotiations last year, the Greens were forced to abandon their electoral promise to impose a 130km/h (around 80 mph) limit on German motorways, as keeping motorways free of speed restrictions was a red line for their liberal coalition partners, the FDP.

But as the war in Ukraine continues, and Germany looks for ways to reduce its reliance on Russian energy, there have been increasing calls for the FDP to put its freedom-loving ideology to one side in light of the exceptional circumstances. 

READ ALSO: Speed limits and ‘home office’: How Germany could reduce its oil consumption

So far, however, the FDP has been digging its heels in on the policy, but as fuel prices remain sky high and the war rages on, calls for them to concede to at least a temporary speed limit are increasing. 

What are people saying?

Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, leading politicians from the Green and SPD parties and environmental and public action groups have been calling for speed limits on the Autobahn.

The general public is also increasingly in favour of the measure: in the latest ARD Deutschland Trend poll, 57 percent of respondents were in favour of a temporary speed limit on highways, while 38 percent were against it.

Last month, the chief executive of the German Association of Cities, Helmut Dedy, told DPA: “As of now, we have to pay even more attention to energy consumption. That’s why we are calling for a speed limit to be considered now. This would allow us to immediately leverage potential savings.” 

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But the most recent appeals for introducing speed limits have taken a more critical tone. 

In an interview with Tagesspiegel, Baden-Württemberg’s state premier Winfried Kretschmann (Greens) recently called for “entrenched dogmas” to be dispensed with. “In this crisis, we should do it immediately – it’s a direct way to save energy,” he said.

Kretschmann added that a speed limit was a moderate means of saving energy during the Ukraine war. 

The heads of the SPD in North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, Thomas Kutschaty and Thomas Losse-Müller, also joined the appeal last week.

“I can’t explain to the normal commuter why he should subsidise the fuel of those who want to travel at 220 km/h and therefore consume more (energy),” said Kutschaty. “A purely selfish sense of freedom comes at the expense of the general public.”

Losse-Müller also spoke out in favour of a speed limit.

“With this measure, we will become independent of Russian energy imports more quickly,” he said. “And at the same time, the speed limit will not trigger any economic distortions in Germany.”

The deputy prime minister of Schleswig-Holstein, Monika Heinold (Greens), also called on the FDP to take off their “ideological blinkers.”

“The speed limit is more than overdue,” she told Tagesspiegel. She also said she expects Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) to make the 130 km/h speed limit a top priority. 

Why is the FDP still against the Tempolimit

The pro-business FDP have continued to speak out against the introduction of a speed limit, citing multiple reasons from ineffectiveness to personal responsibilty.

Recently, FDP leader and Finance Minister Christian Lindner argued that drivers who wanted to could voluntarily take their foot off the gas pedal. 

Meanwhile, FDP parliamentary group leader Christian Dürr called the debate over a speed limit “a distraction.”

“The debate about a speed limit must end immediately because it distracts from what really needs to be done now,” Dürr told Tagesspiegel. “The impact of such a measure on our energy reserves would be zero.”

Last week, Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP), also spoke out against introducing a speed limit – partly because he believes there aren’t enough road signs in stock. 

READ ALSO: Germany ‘doesn’t have enough signs’ for Autobahn speed limit, says minister

In an interview with the Hamburger Morgenpost, Wissing said a speed limit in Germany is “extremely controversial” and “divides society very strongly”. 

“You would have to put up appropriate signs if you do it for three months and then take them down again,” he said. “We don’t even have that many signs in stock.”

Perhaps more realistically, the FDP are keen to maintain their anti-speed limit stance to try not to jeopardise the support of their base.

The Tempolimit issue was a flagship policy of the liberals throughout the election campaign, and backtracking at a time when the FDP have made several concessions to their coalition partners on other issues relating to energy policy could be seen by the party leaders as a step too far. 

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ENERGY

Should tenants in Germany be shielded from energy price hikes?

Gas prices have more than tripled in the past year, prompting tenants' rights advocates to call for more social support and a cap on energy costs.

Should tenants in Germany be shielded from energy price hikes?

The German’s Tenants’ Association is calling on the government to put together a new energy relief package to help renters deal with spiralling energy costs.

Gas has become an increasing scarce resource in Germany, with the Economics Ministry raising the alert level recently after Russia docked supplies by 60 percent.

The continued supply issues have caused prices to skyrocket. According to the German import prices published on Thursday, natural gas was three times as expensive in May 2022 as it was in May a year ago.

In light of the exploding prices, the German Tenants’ Association is putting the government under pressure to offer greater relief for renters.

READ ALSO: 

Proposals on the table include a moratorium on terminating tenancy agreements and a permanent heating cost subsidy for all low-income households.

The Tenants’ Association has argued that nobody should face eviction for being unable to cope with soaring bills and is urging the government to adjust housing benefits in line with the higher prices. 

Gas price cap

Renters’ advocates have also joined a chorus of people advocating for a cap on consumer gas prices to prevent costs from rising indefinitely.

Recently, Frank Bsirske, a member of the parliamentary Green Party and former head of the trade union Verdi, spoke out in favour of capping prices. Bavaria’s economics minister and Lower Saxony’s energy minister have also advocated for a gas price cap in the past. 

According to the tenants’ association, the vast majority of tenants use gas for heating and are directly affected by recent price increases.

At the G7 summit in Bavaria this week, leaders of the developed nations discussed plans for a coordinated cut in oil prices to prevent Russia from reaping the rewards of the energy crisis. 

In an initiative spearheaded by the US, the group of rich nations agreed to task ministers will developing a proposal that would see consumer countries refusing to pay more than a set price for oil imports from Russia.

READ ALSO: Germany and G7 to ‘develop a price cap’ on Russian oil

A gas price cap would likely be carried out on a more national level, with the government regulating how much of their costs energy companies can pass onto consumers. 

Strict contract laws preventing sudden price hikes mean that tenants in Germany are unlikely to feel the full force of the rising gas prices this year

However, the Tenant’s Association pointed out that, if there is a significant reduction in gas imports, the Federal Network Agency could activate an emergency clause known as the price adjustment clause.

This would allow gas suppliers to pass on higher prices to their customers at short notice. 

The Tenants’ Association has warned that the consequences of an immediate market price adjustment, if it happens, should be legally regulated and socially cushioned.

In the case of the price adjustment clause being activated, the government would have to regulate the costs that companies were allowed to pass onto consumers to prevent social upheaval. 

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