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06 Dec 2022, 13:37
Benjamin Wehrmann

Transport ministry’s plans for expansion of motorways irk Green coalition partner

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung / Der Spiegel 

A proposal by Germany’s transport ministry to accelerate the planning and construction of new motorways is causing an uproar by the Green Party, which argues that plans by Free Democrat (FDP) minister Volker Wissing undermine promises made in the government’s coalition treaty. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wissing had said motorways “continue to play a very important role” in transport planning and should be expanded with the same rigour as railways. The country would be facing logistical bottlenecks if it did not pursue road expansion, the FDP minister said, arguing that “standing still is not an option.” However, according to his cabinet colleague Steffi Lemke, environment minister for the Greens, the government should not focus on expanding the road network. “We need an acceleration for key projects like renewables or replacing bridges to modernise the country,” Lemke told the newspaper. The environment minister rejected Wissing’s call for cutting legal pathways for environmental NGOs to stop infrastructure modernisation in the courts. National and EU law gives NGOs every right to ensure construction projects are carried out within the limits of existing regulation. “An attempt to sweepingly reduce these rights is legally and technically off target, risks causing further legal uncertainty and ultimately more delays,” Lemke said. Her fellow Green Party member Stefan Gelbhaar, the party’s transport policy spokesman, said Wissing’s plans “contradict the coalition treaty,” news magazine Der Spiegel reported. The coalition parties; the FDP, the Greens and chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD); had agreed to jointly assess the need for new projects for the “Autobahn,” Germany’s long-distance road network. The coalition treaty says that “much more” funding will go into building new railways than roads and that the focus will be put on “maintenance and modernisation” rather than expansion. “The ministry does not pursue achieving the agreed climate targets but presents a draft law that is in direct opposition to these targets,” Gelbhaar said. 

The country’s transport sector has been particularly slow to achieve progress in emissions reduction in recent years, with an excessive focus on road transport and passenger vehicles considered to be a major cause of this slow progress. The Green Party has positioned itself firmly against further expanding the country’s vast Autobahn network, which at more than 13,000 kilometres as of 2021, is the longest in Europe. Increasing railroad transport volumes while reducing car emissions has been on the transport ministry’s agenda for years but a major shift of transport modes has so far not been achieved. 

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