11 Feb 2022, 14:32
Sören Amelang

Climate activists' motorway blockage triggers debate in German government about protest legitimacy

Clean Energy Wire / Der Tagesspiegel

Climate activists' repeated blockages of motorways in Berlin and other German cities have sparked a debate among government parties about the legitimacy of these protests. Many politicians from across the spectrum heavily criticised the controversial climate protest measures, whereas several Green politicians initially expressed sympathy. During a conference this week, Green environment minister Steffi Lemke said it was "absolutely legitimate to demonstrate for one's concerns and also to use forms of civil disobedience." She added that the protests "should not harm people and that no one should be affected by civil disobedience in a way that harm could occur." In response to her comments, Free Democrat (FDP) justice minister Marco Buschmann described civil disobedience as “neither justification nor excuse in German law. Unannounced demonstrations on motorways are and remain illegal." He added that "protest is ok, but only within the framework of the law and the constitution."

For several weeks, climate activist group The Last Generation has staged protests on the autobahn in Berlin and other cities, disrupting commuter traffic and triggering angry reactions from affected motorists. The group is pushing for a law against food waste and changes in agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Social Democrat party leader Kevin Kühnert said blocking motorways was a "completely wrong choice of means" to fight for climate action. Even within the Greens, the actions were disputed. "I believe that roadblocks are detrimental to our common goal," the party's agriculture minister Cem Özdemir said. "You certainly don't win social majorities by blocking ambulances, police or nursery teachers on their way to work."

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