- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

BERLIN — An EU official called on Germany to impose speed limits on its autobahns to fight global warming, drawing angry responses yesterday in a country that cherishes what it calls “free driving for free citizens.”

The call came as the German government makes taking action against climate change a priority while it holds the rotating presidencies of the European Union and Group of Eight.

But the German environment minister showed little enthusiasm for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas’ suggestion, and a group representing Germany’s auto industry said it needed “no coaching on efficient climate protection from Brussels.”

Many stretches of German autobahn lack speed limits — traditionally a cherished freedom in a rule-bound country. However, the growing concern over carbon-dioxide emissions is putting that tradition under renewed scrutiny.

“There are so many areas in which we waste energy in a completely senseless way and burden the climate,” Mr. Dimas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“A simple measure in Germany could be a general speed limit on highways,” he added, according to the newspaper. “Speed limits make a lot of sense for many reasons and are completely normal in most EU states, as in the U.S.A. — only in Germany, strangely, is it controversial.”

The commissioner did not suggest a specific speed limit for Germany, but in most European countries the highway speed limit is either 75 or 80 miles per hour. Britain, Latvia and Sweden have the lowest speed limits at 70 mph, according to an official EU Web site.

Mr. Dimas’ comments drew a number of negative responses yesterday on the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s Internet site. One respondent described the debate as a “farce” and questioned the environmental record of Mr. Dimas’ native Greece.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has said Europe should take a leading role in combating climate change to set an example for the United States, China and others, last week steered an EU summit to a bold set of measures to fight global warming.

Among several initiatives, the EU is planning to push for an increased use of energy-saving light bulbs to slash energy consumption and reduce the effects of greenhouse gases.

However, Mrs. Merkel has brushed aside previous suggestions — most recently last month — that a general speed limit on the autobahn would help fight climate change.

Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said yesterday that he has “nothing against [a limit] for reasons of traffic safety,” but argued that the restriction would not encourage manufacturers to produce more environmentally friendly engines.

“This is a secondary front and a trivialization of the climate problem,” he said at an event in Hamburg.

The German Association of the Automotive Industry, which represents an industry that includes such famous names as Volkswagen, BMW, Porsche and DaimlerChrysler, said Germany needed “no coaching” from Brussels on how to protect the climate — “above all when the proposals are only symbolic.”

“The German auto industry will act on climate change where there is real potential for savings” of vehicle emissions, the group said in a statement.

Transport Ministry spokesman Dirk Inger said a study by a federal agency had found that an overall autobahn limit of 62 mph would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by only 0.6 percent.

The U.S. Department of Energy calculates that for each 5 mph a car drives over 60 mph, fuel economy declines by 10 percent.

Mr. Inger also contended that, among European countries, only Germany had succeeded in reducing vehicle emissions.

“Symbolic politics doesn’t help us move forward on climate protection,” Mr. Inger said. “That goes for Mr. Dimas, too.”

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