Diesel driving bans: Before the state election, the Chancellor helps

In the commuter city of Frankfurt threatened diesel driving bans.
 Hesse's Prime Minister Bouffier tries to prevent them – also because they could harm the CDU in the final campaign.
 Chancellor – and party friend – Angela Merkel is now planning a change in the law, which could benefit not only Frankfurt but also 50 other cities.

       By Markus Balser and Constanze von Bullion, Berlin, and Susanne Höll, Frankfurt



    Hesse's Prime Minister Volker Bouffier, whose CDU has to pass a difficult state election on Sunday, has been making a strong stand with the federal government for several weeks to stop a diesel driving ban threatening all over Frankfurt. He wants to keep the commuter city on the Main as open as possible and prevent in the final spurt of the election campaign that worried diesel car owners give the vote to another party.


    In this fight Bouffier gets support from Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to make it difficult for drivers of diesel cars by law due to bad air threatening standstill. Her party believes that bans on driving are generally disproportionate if the limit values ​​for nitrogen dioxide were exceeded only slightly, she said. This concerns 51 of the 65 problem cities with a low limit violation.


    "If the law comes, the ban would be gone for Frankfurt," says hopeful from Hesse state government. For this, the Union in the Bundestag would have to win the support of the SPD. If a corresponding law would have to pass the Federal Council, the approval of Greens would be necessary.


    If cities exceed the limit of 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) per cubic meter on an annual average by no more than 25 percent, then the amendment to the law should allow them to refrain from driving bans. That would also apply to Frankfurt.

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The government justifies the step by saying that the measures introduced, such as software updates, retrofitting for small trucks and municipal vehicles in the 51 cities, were sufficient to bring air pollution below the limit in the foreseeable future. However, more had to be done in 14 other cities, warned Merkel. These included "Actions of the Automotive Industry". This had "massively destroyed trust".


    The attempt to overturn driving bans by law, will go to court, says Greenpeace


    However, it is unclear whether the amendment to the law will actually prevent driving bans. The Federal Government can not ban diesel driving bans even in cities with only slightly exceeding the EU limit values ​​for air pollution. "In the end, a municipality decides for itself whether to impose a driving ban or not," said a spokesman for Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD). Courts had recently increased the pressure on municipalities to impose driving bans. Environmentalists harshly criticized Merkel's plan. The German Environmental Aid (DUH) described him as an "unenforceable campaign pledge". The limit values ​​for nitrogen dioxide are valid throughout Europe and could "not be increased unilaterally in one Member State". Greenpeace traffic expert Benjamin Stephan said: "What's relative can not be regulated by law." The trial will inevitably end up in court. The government is running a "temporary game".


    Bouffier aims his initiative for Frankfurt especially on the Liberals, because the Hessian FDP promotes the sympathy of diesel car drivers. Bouffier had also voted last week, the car owners in case of technical conversions, if necessary, from tax revenue to help under the arms, then, namely, if the manufacturers did not want to take over the costs completely.


    Hesse's green top candidate Tarek Al-Wazir also emphasized on Monday that he wanted to avoid driving bans as much as possible. "My goal is not driving bans, my goal is clean air," he said after a meeting of the green federal executive in Berlin. In order to reduce pollution levels in cities below valid limits, the automotive industry must be held accountable. The Greens demand to retrofit the hardware for Euro 5 diesel at manufacturer's expense. "In my view, it would be good if the German government also concentrated its efforts on enforcing the hardware upgrade with the automotive industry," said the Green Party politician. For interim solutions, as sought by Merkel and Bouffier, he has little left: "I believe that we must uphold the pressure on the auto industry." With regard to possible coalition negotiations, Al-Wazir said: "I'm curious what will be presented in the end."

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