SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

TRAIN TRAVEL

E-cars and sleeper trains: How Germany’s new government will reform transport

Germany's new traffic light coalition has a fitting name - they have lofty ambitions for the transport sector. Now under the control of the Free Democrats, the transport ministry will focus on e-mobility, modernising the railways and bringing local public transport up to scratch.

A sign for an e-car charging station
A sign for a charging station in Wolfsburg. dpa | Swen Pförtner

Cars

Germany’s pride and joy is its automobile industry, which employs close to a million people. The next government has pledged to support this industry in transitioning to e-mobility while securing its place as a global export powerhouse.

The coalition agreement isn’t afraid to go into detail on what it expects to achieve. The Ampel parties want to see 15 million electric cars on the streets by the end of the decade. They’ve committed to an end to new combustion engines by 2035.

They also pledge “massive” support for charging infrastructure. Specifically the documents sets out an “expansion of the charging point infrastructure with the goal of one million publicly accessible charging points by 2030, with a focus on fast-charging infrastructure.”

In terms of old fashioned asphalt, the coalition says it will “focus on the maintenance and rehabilitation of federal roads, with a particular emphasis on engineering structures.”

Maintenance of autobahns and bridges will receive a bigger share of the federal budget in the coming years, they say.

There will also be no general speed limit imposed on German motorways.

Some good news for teenagers: they also want to lower the legal driving age to 16, with driving at that age possible under supervision. The intention is to “train young people in the dangers of road traffic at an early stage.”

Public transport

The coalition wants to “invest significantly more in rail than in road transport” and will establish sleeper train services that will connect German to destinations in other EU countries. Between the largest cities, trains are to run every half hour in future, and transfer times are to be significantly shortened.

They also commit to having 75 percent of the rail network run on electricity by the end of the decade. 

There is a vague commitment to “supporting innovative rail technologies” while more money will also be given to local governments to “improve the attractiveness and capacity of local public transport with the aim of significantly increasing passenger numbers.” 

To bring local transport up to standard, new quality criteria will be drawn up for connections in urban and rural areas, while the federal government will dole out more money to plug gaps in regional transport budgets. 

Regional train in Schleswig-Holstein
A regional train travels through Friedrichstadt in Schleswig-Holstein. The traffic light coalition wants to lift standards on regional transport with major investment and national quality criteria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

The next pledge comes under the category of ‘boring but important’: all rail services from track repair, to station maintenance to trains will be rolled up into one company. The various state-owned companies that make up Deutsche Bahn have been leaking money at an alarming rate in recent years, making an overhaul all but inevitable.

There is a general commitment to app-based booking and car sharing. They also want to support digital booking across transport companies, while also “funding digital mobility services, innovative mobility solutions and car sharing.”

Aviation

The focus here is on decarbonizing the aviation sector. There is a pledge to “ramp-up” support for of synthetic fuels that enable climate-neutral flying. They also promise to lobby the European Union to ensure that airline tickets cannot be sold at a rock-bottom prices.

Bikes

The Green party’s manifesto pledge to subsidize cargo bikes has not made it into the agreement.

Instead there is a commitment to “implementing and updating the National Cycling Plan” and to work on “modernization of the bike path network, and promote municipal cycling infrastructure.”

The minister

Volker Wissing arrives at negotiations in Belrin on November 11th. Photo: DPA/ Kay Nietfeld

The ministry is going to be led by Free Democrat general Secretary Volker Wissing, who ran the transport ministry in Rhineland-Palatinate until 2018.

Wissing is fairly new on the national scene and something of an unknown quantity. A man of growing influence in his party, he led the early ‘traffic light’ negotiations for his party.

READ MORE:

The Free Democrats were staunch opponents of a speed limit on the autobahns. They traditionally have the reputation of being a party of men who drive fast cars.

Due to their advocacy of economic liberalism, the FDP are likely to be hesitant about imposing too many government targets on the car industry.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

POLITICS

Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
 
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
 
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
 
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
 
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

READ ALSO: 

Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.

SHOW COMMENTS