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25 Mar 2019, 14:51
Sven Egenter Benjamin Wehrmann

German transport minister pledges to avoid bans, price hikes ahead of commission’s final meeting

After months of negotiations, the commission tasked with proposing measures to cut emissions from Germany’s transport sector has come together for its final meeting. So far, the task force has made headlines mainly for fierce dispute between industry, environmentalists and the transport minister, a vocal critic of measures unpopular with German drivers who now vowed to shield them from bans and price hikes. Meanwhile, analysts say the auto sector will shed thousands of jobs as manufacturers switch from combustion to electric engines. [Updates with comments from environment minister.]

Ahead of the last official meeting of the commission tasked with drawing up Germany’s plan to get its transport sector on track to 2030 climate targets, transport minister Andreas Scheuer rejected once again drastic measures such as significant price increases or bans to cut emissions from the transport sector.

“Now, it’s primarily about bringing the public with us, making them curious about new means of mobility, and generating excitement over new German-made technology, so that we can also – alongside good mobility – achieve our climate targets,” Scheuer told public broadcaster ARD.

By 2030, Germany aims to cut emissions from transport by 40 percent, compared to 1990 levels. But the sector’s emissions have remained stubbornly high and even risen slightly some years.

The commission, led by Scheuer’s transport ministry (BMVI), brought car industry representatives, local authorities and environmental organisations together for six months of talks. The crucial closing chapters of its final report are to be hammered out in open-ended meeting on Monday (25 March), before the commission finalises the text by the end of the week.

According to the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the commission is trying to reach a breakthrough in its last scheduled meeting. The newspaper says the commission’s atmosphere had “palpably worsened” over recent months, with members unable to agree over basic principles underpinning the future of Germany’s transport sector. 

In January, a leaked internal document caused an outcry in the conservative press, revealing that the commission was considering a speed limit on the Autobahn, famous for allowing drivers to go as fast as they like, as well as significant fuel price hikes. Scheuer told ARD he would oppose proposals unpopular with car owners. “That’s my policy. I will not support bans, limitations, price increases,” he said.

Industry representatives, meanwhile, argue that radical steps are essential to meaningful decarbonisation.“I don’t think you can push back this moment of truth much longer,” Holger Lösch, deputy chief executive of Germany’s industry lobby group BDI told ARD. “At some stage you will realise you have to make enormous efforts, and possibly uncomfortable decisions, to meet those targets.”

Environment minister Svenja Schulze stressed that the time of symbolical policy moves was over. She reiterated her call for a carbon price across all energy forms in a radio interview with public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. However, she rejected ending the tax break for diesel fuel, saying that diesel drivers were burdened enough, e.g. through driving bans in cities which failed to meet limits for nitrogenoxid. During the transition phase towards e-mobility, other fuels were needed and for that "diesel is not that bad", Schulze said.

E-mobility could put up to 20 percent of jobs in car industry at stake

According to newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the commission has managed to agree on a number of less controversial measures, including funding new e-charging infrastructure, investing in public transport and bicycle infrastructure, making greater use of rail, investing in research into alternative fuels, and digitalising traffic management systems. The newspaper says these measures will cost the state and drivers between 160 and 250 billion euros. But they will still leave Germany 23 million tonnes short of its CO2 emissions reduction goal.

As the commission set out to reach an agreement, steelworker trade union IG Metall warned that switching to electric mobility as needed to meet tougher EU climate goals could cost Germany up to 150,000 auto-sector jobs, news website Spiegel Online reports.

According to calculations by research institute Fraunhofer IAO, fewer production steps for e-cars mean that up to 35 percent of jobs in propulsion system production could be lost, and up to 44 percent of all jobs with industry suppliers are under threat.

IG Metall head Jörg Hofmann said the production of batteries and other e-car components could compensate for some the lost employment opportunities, and that government had a duty to provide the charging infrastructure necessary for a large-scale roll-out of electric mobility.“The worst-case scenario would be that carmakers shift to e-mobility and customers don’t buy e-cars,” Hofmann said.

Auto industry expert Stefan Bratzel told ARD e-mobility would inevitably cost the German car production many jobs. “We expect a 15 to 20 percent decline in jobs by 2030,” Bratzel said. “That’s significant if you consider that more than 800,000 people are employed in the car industry alone.”

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