German transport minister warns of potential indefinite driving restrictions

Volker Wissing was accused of “frightening people for no reason” with his draconian environmental proposal

German Transport Minister Volker Wissing has warned that he may forbid citizens from driving on weekends if reforms aren’t made to a controversial climate law. Even Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency considers such a move “unnecessary” and “frightening.”

In a letter to the chief lawmakers of Germany’s ruling coalition on Thursday, Wissing warned that the government may have to put in place a drastic “action program” if the 2019 Climate Protection Act is not amended by July.

Such a program could include “comprehensive and indefinite driving bans on Saturdays and Sundays,” Wissing said. 

Passed by former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, the Climate Protection Act mandates a 65% reduction in CO2 emissions across the entire German economy by 2030, and complete carbon neutrality by 2045. The act also sets maximum annual emissions levels for each sector of the economy – such as transportation – and requires the government to implement an “action program” if any sector exceeds this limit.

Some members of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition, such as Wissing, want to pass an amendment that would impose an overall emissions limit on the country and allow the government to decide which sectors to cut to achieve this goal. However, the Greens have blocked any attempt to amend the act thus far, as such a move would essentially dilute the power of the act.

Detlaf Muller, a senior lawmaker from Scholz’s Social Democrats, accused Wissing of needlessly stoking fear.

“Scaremongering with far-fetched proposals won’t help climate protection in the transport sector at all, quite the contrary,” he told the Rheinische Post on Friday. “The proposal does not further our common goal of reducing CO2 emissions, but [causes] unnecessary uncertainty for people in our country.” 

The Greens’ parliamentary group leader, Julia Verlinden, also downplayed Wissing’s warning, telling the German Press Agency that a driving ban would be unnecessary if the minister imposed a speed limit on Germany’s famously unrestricted Autobahn.

Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency is also in favor of speed limits. “Of course we don’t need driving bans. Nobody is even discussing such a ban; this is frightening people for no reason,” agency chief Dirk Messner told Zeit on Friday.