The German transport minister has clashed with environmentalists after he dismissed calls for a speed limit on the country’s motorways as “against all common sense”.
Andreas Scheuer’s comments came after a government commission set up by his own ministry recommended a national speed limit of 130kmh (81mph) on German autobahns and higher fuel taxes to limit harmful pollution.
Mr Scheuer described the proposals as “completely exaggerated, unrealistic mind games”.
“We want to inspire and inspire citizens withe the opportunities of future mobility. Demands that provoke anger, annoyance and stress or endanger our prosperity, will not become reality and I reject them,” said the minister, who is a member of Angela Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Germany is one of the last countries in the world not to impose a national speed limit. Just over half of the country’s 8,000 miles of motorway remain unrestricted, and it is not uncommon to encounter cars driving at speeds in excess of 150mph.
Unrestricted motorways have become something of a national symbol in the country that invented the car, and attempts to impose a limit are as fiercely resisted by certain sections of German society as gun control is in the US.
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But Germany is divided over the issue and environmentalists lashed out at Mr Scheuer’s comments.
“The derogatory remarks made by Andreas Scheuer clearly show that the transport minister doesn’t care about road safety or climate protection,” Jürgen Resch, head of the activist group German Environmental Aid (DUH), said.
DUH is the organisation behind lawsuits which have forced several German cities to introduce bans on older diesel cars against local authorities’ wishes, and the group recently called for a national speed limit of 120kmp (74mph).
The diesel bans have been deeply unpopular with motorists, who say they are being made to pay for the mistakes of the car industry, and Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrat party (CDU) has increasingly sought to take on the environmentalist group in recent months.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new CDU leader and Mrs Merkel’s anointed successor, accused DUH of carrying on a “crusade” against diesel and damaging the German car industry earlier this month.
At the CDU party conference in December, there were calls for DUH to be stripped of chairtable status.
Mr Resch on Monday accused the party of being beholden to the German car industry. “The CDU — which is clearly the Christian Diesel Union — is now the party of the car industry,” he told Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.