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In Germany, no hurry to follow EU

A European Union commissioner yesterday called on Germany to put speed limits on the autobahn to fight global warming. A European Union commissioner yesterday called on Germany to put speed limits on the autobahn to fight global warming. (ASSOCIATED PRESS/file/2006)

BERLIN -- A European Union official called on Germany to give up the famous freedom of its highways and impose speed limits on the autobahn to fight global warming -- a demand that drew angry responses yesterday in a country that cherishes what it calls "free driving for free citizens."

The call was made as the German government makes action against climate change a priority of its current presidencies of the EU and Group of Eight.

Still, the German environment minister showed little enthusiasm for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas's suggestion, and a group representing the country'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. But 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," 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 USA -- 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 strictest speed limit with 70 miles per hour, according to an official EU website.

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 environment-friendly engines.

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

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