At first it looked like the solo dance of a leading Christian Democrat who wants to keep his party attractive to the bourgeois clientele, who are increasingly leaning towards the Greens, in the upcoming state election campaign. “A temporary speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour on motorways can no longer be categorically ruled out,” announced Dirk Toepffer, CDU parliamentary group leader in Lower Saxony, at the end of last week.
A breach of taboo in the Union, which in the past has repeatedly spoken out categorically against a speed limit and has repeatedly gone into the election campaign with this negative attitude.
Toepffer justified his initiative with the crisis in the energy market since the beginning of the Ukraine war. “In difficult times,” said the Christian Democrat, whose party would like to be the strongest force in Lower Saxony’s parliament again after the state elections in October, “there should be no more mental blocks within the CDU.” In his parliamentary group it was clear that something was moving on the subject of the speed limit.
And in any case, Toepffer and his Lower Saxony state parliament colleagues are not completely alone.
In the NRW-CDU, for example, which has just formed a coalition with the speed limit-loving Greens, the traffic expert from the CDU parliamentary group, Klaus Voussem, is signaling at least a limited openness to the initiative of his party friend from Lower Saxony.
In the current situation, Voussem WELT said, in addition to an “efficient road network” and “intelligent traffic management”, “innovative ideas that help citizens and protect the environment” are also needed. Incidentally, according to Voussem, the subject of speed limits is “generally a federal issue”.
The chairman of the Baden-Württemberg CDU working group on transport, Thomas Dörflinger, also refers to the responsibility of the federal government. Like Toepffer, however, Dörflinger also pleads against bans on thinking on the subject of 130 km/h. “In times of crisis, you can’t rule out anything,” said the member of parliament. Ultimately, however, Germany will not be able to solve the “big question of energy resilience” “through minimally effective patchwork and symbolic politics”. Nevertheless: In the end, “the red traffic light” in Berlin must agree on a general speed limit on motorways.
There, in the federal government, a speed limit of 130 km/h on motorways failed in the traffic light coalition negotiations last fall due to the veto of the FDP, which, unlike the Social Democrats, considers a speed limit to be wrong. The CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag under party leader Friedrich Merz also rejects a general speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour. According to the spokesman for transport policy, Thomas Bareiß, such a measure is not an effective means of countering the energy crisis.
“I am convinced that in view of the high fuel prices, the vast majority of drivers are already holding back and driving sparingly. We don’t have to dictate that to them, we trust them to do it on their own responsibility,” said Bareiß WELT.
According to calculations by the Federal Environment Agency, a general speed limit on motorways would save around 600 million liters of fuel per year. Roughly calculated, that would be 1.5 percent of the annual consumption of petrol and diesel.
In some other federal states, too, the speed advance from the Lower Saxony Union has met with considerable reservations within their own party. Both the CDU parliamentary group leader in the Hessian state parliament, Ines Claus, and the general secretary of the Saar-CDU Frank Wagner are against speed limits on German motorways, “neither temporarily nor generally”, as Wagner emphasized when asked by WELT. “We also rely on the personal responsibility of the drivers in relation to fuel and emission savings instead of political paternalism through a speed limit.”
According to the chairman of the Rhineland-Palatinate CDU parliamentary group, Christian Baldauf, the high fuel prices already have “an enormous steering effect”. Also as a result of the general price trend, “people are saving wherever they can and stepping on the brakes on their own”. He therefore does not see the need for state intervention in the form of a general speed limit.
The Lower Saxony Christian Democrat Toepffer received the most decisive support for his initiative this week from the very politician his CDU state association would like to see retire this fall. Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister Stephan Weil (SPD), currently still Toepffer’s coalition partner in the state parliament of Hanover, welcomed the initiative of the CDU parliamentary group leader almost enthusiastically.
This comes unexpectedly, but is very welcome. He was pleased “about the new openness from the ranks of the coalition partner”. Although he himself is independent of the energy shortage for a general speed limit on the motorways, a temporary speed limit still offers “the chance to convince even skeptics”.
Toepffer’s state chairman and CDU top candidate for the state elections in autumn, Lower Saxony’s Economics and Transport Minister Bernd Althusmann, is not reacting quite so euphorically to the initiative of his parliamentary group leader. According to the minister, “we shouldn’t expect too much from the effects of a speed limit”.
But Althusmann also emphasizes that “in the current energy crisis there must be no taboo topics”. The debate is not only open in the Lower Saxony Union.
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