10 October, 2018

Berlin diesel ban causes tension in German coalition government

Berlin is the latest city in Germany to look towards implementing a driving ban on diesel vehicles as the country continues its clamp-down on air pollution.

Courts in the city have ruled that authorities must impose a ban in eleven zones around the country’s capital no later than three months after they present their clean air plan. This is scheduled to be revealed on 31 March 2019, meaning bans would be enforced no later than June next year.

The city now joins Stuttgart and Frankfurt in planning to implement diesel bans, while Hamburg has already brought in its laws, governing certain streets within its limits.

Diesel cars with Euro 5 and below engines will be subject to the ban with Germany’s environmental lobby group, the DUH, which brought legal action against the city over its levels of air pollution, calling for the retrofitting of newer vehicles to reduce harmful emissions even more.

Jürgen Resch, national director of the DUH, comments: ‘We welcome the clear and unequivocal decision on the need for diesel driving bans in the federal capital. The court has also clearly criticised the so-called 'diesel decision' of the Federal Government as ineffective. Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as all 115 cities and towns suffering from NO2 limit violations, must finally adopt a compulsory hardware retrofit for all Euro 5 and Euro 6a-c diesel cars. For sure, a sixth chancellor summit will be necessary. This should perhaps also include the German environmental aid and not just the automotive industry sitting at the negotiating table.’

Government divisions

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel’s coalition government has suffered an outbreak of tension over plans for diesel vehicles, as Social Democrats called for tougher measures against the German car industry.

The implementation of bans in Berlin has added further pressure to the government, which, together with business leaders, is trying to avoid such measures as it seeks to protect the large industry in the country.

Germany’s coalition is made up of Merkel’s CSU party and the SPD, which is in favour of the bans and other diesel-related restrictions.

SPD leaders raised the prospect of hefty fines for carmakers who refused to take urgent measures to cut diesel emissions. ‘Carmakers have not fully grasped the danger posed by driving bans for diesel vehicles in Frankfurt or Berlin,’ said Sören Bartol, an SPD member of parliament.

The driving bans could affect millions of motorists across the country, and accelerate the already steep decline in the sale of diesel vehicles, which still account for close to 30% of all cars registered in Germany. Diesel cars continue to play a crucial role in the product line-up of German motor giants such as Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler.

However, these manufacturers are against the idea of retrofitting vehicles, which could cost them up to €3,000 per vehicle recalled. The government recently announced details of a wide-ranging diesel deal, which it hopes will bring to an end the issue of city driving bans. This includes a combination of trade-in incentive schemes, and still, unspecified retrofit options would be introduced for drivers of older diesels in and around the 14 German cities with the highest level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution.