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German SPD leader floats autobahn speed limit

BERLIN — The co-leader of Germany’s Social Democrats Saskia Esken proposed introducing a speed limit on German highways as well as driving bans if gasoline prices don’t fall.

In an interview with the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel, Esken said the government’s recent attempt to offer relief at the gas pump by slashing taxes isn’t working and the governing coalition, which her party leads, should consider other options.

She said a law introduced during the oil crisis in the 1970s gives the government the power to take extraordinary measures.

“It allows the government to introduce temporary measures such as a Sunday driving ban, which older people will remember, or a temporary speed limit,” she said, adding that it would also be possible, should prices continue to rise, to introduce caps and even to place energy companies under government control.

In a country famous for its racetrack-like autobahns, however, the most controversial step would be to introduce speed limits, even on a temporary basis. The Greens, which also belong to the ruling coalition, have been pushing for permanent speed limits for years, arguing that they would help reduce carbon emissions. Yet both the SPD and the liberal Free Democrats, the third party in the coalition, have opposed the move, which has also divided the public.

Esken, who is associated with the left wing of her party, lashed out at oil companies for not passing on more of the tax relief the government has given them to consumers. The government recently agreed to cut fuel taxes on a temporary basis by a total of about €3 billion in reaction to the spike in prices triggered by the war in Ukraine.

“It stinks to high heaven that the oil companies are not fully passing on the savings,” Esken said, urging Germany’s cartel office to investigate the industry.

Though gasoline prices initially fell to below €2 per liter after the move, which took effect June 1; they have begun to rise again, which the industry attributes to market forces.

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