The climate, emissions and German transport policy: a look at the coalition contract

In the past years, German transport and mobility policy had to navigate a dangerous predicament. Its renowned Energiewende attracted global attention, but quite obviously wasn’t enough to reach the climate change goals that the country had pledged in the various international accords. To even have a remote chance of doing so, a Verkehrswende also has to come.

For anyone with even a remote understanding of the German economy, the problem is quite obvious. Any change to transport and mobility policy that would take away from the success of the automobile industry would shake the very foundation of Germany’s economy. And thus, for many observer German policy often seemed to have nothing but the interest of carmakers in mind.

In 2018, that just doesn’t suffice anymore. Volkswagen and others are rocked by scandals that saw them systematically cheating emission testing. Germany cities are facing the almost impossible challenge of conforming to European NO2 emission standards without making use of temporary bans on Diesel cars.

Amid all of this, mobility systems overall are facing foundational changes and individual car ownership could soon be a thing of the past. Public transport systems are improving as they embrace multi-modality. Uber and its competitors are disrupting individual transport services and both ride- and car-sharing platforms reduce the need to own a car even further.

But how is politics reacting to this? A few answers can be found in the coalition contract:

  • Governance

The new coalition wants to avoid harming anyone at any cost – be that the automobile industry, other stakeholders in the mobility sector or individual car owners. A commission shall be formed that is supposed to prepare a strategy for the “future of affordable and sustainable mobility”. Further, the coalition contract states that the coalition intends to “reach the climate goals of the Paris agreement while taking social aspects into consideration and securing both the competitiveness of our industry and affordable mobility.”

  •  Diesel cars and emissions

The coalition wants to avoid that cities have to make use of temporary bans on Diesel cars at all cost. Much rather, the goal is to reduce emissions at the source, meaning the cars themselves. While retrofitting Diesel cars with modern emission reducing technology is a theoretical option, the carmakers don’t want to bear the cost and nobody would dare to saddle the consumer with it.

Instead, the contract foresees states, regions and municipalities to be granted the right to regulate emission limits “for commercial transport services like busses, taxis, rental cars and car-sharing vehicles”, as well as for courier- and delivery vehicles.

  • E-Mobility & Autonomous Driving

Funding for the development for e-mobility is supposed to be increased, but the contract fails to mention any specific goals. A very particular focus is on company cars, that will see discounted tax rate for electro and hybrid models. Charging stations shall be increased in numbers to a total of 100,000 in 2020.

By the end of the legislative term, the government wants to create regulation to enable fully autonomous vehicles. Even faster, experimentation spaces shall be created for the industry to test those cars. This is supposed to go hand-in-hand with the creating of smart cities that possess intelligent car-park routing systems and a “digitalized road network”.

  • New forms of mobility

For companies that are disrupting the mobility sector, there is a twofold challenge. While there is much lip-service done on promoting car-sharing and alike services, the reality has been a bit bleek in the past. Car- and ride-sharing yet has to blow up as it did in other countries. Regulatory barriers quite often have played a role in this.

German personal transport law is supposed to be modernized to rectify this situation. Ride sharing and new platform-based mobility services are supposed to receive a legal foundation for the certification of their services, while maintaining a level playing field between different transport modes. Particularly taxi- and rental car services are supposed to be relieved of regulatory duties.

This is clearly aiming at clearing up the problems that Uber is facing but will certainly apply to other platforms as well.

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A tale of two parties

The past weeks could not have shown the differences between Germany’s two dominant parties, the Christian Conservatives and the Social Democrats, any better. Both coming from a devastating loss in the September election, one stands united with secure leadership and personnel that could lead the party towards the future once the current leader leaves the picture. The other, in a very fragile situation already, has little leadership and is completely divided about its future course. The former, of course, is Angela Merkel’s CDU, while the latter are the Social Democrats that by Sunday will have made the decision whether to form a government with the CDU.

For the Social Democrats, either outcome could spell doom. The party essentially seems to be split over the idea of a repeat coalition. Over the past four elections, their voter share has halved, from 40.9 percent in 1998 to 20.5 percent in 2017. Particularly devastating was the 2009 election (23 percent), right after the first Grand Coalition under Angela Merkel as Chancellor. Yet, Merkel hardly seems to be the only reason for the continued downturn. Labour and economic policies introduced by SPD Chancellor Schröder (the infamous Hartz-Reforms) have led to a chasm on the left wing of the party that seem to have permanently exiled many former Social Democratic voters.

Now, it is on all members of the party to decide on whether to continue the past course or take a turn to the left. The party establishment would have loved to regroup in the opposition, but the failure of the so-called Jamaica coalition (CDU/CSU, Greens and Liberals) didn’t allow for this. In the coalition however, returning to a leftist course, seems to be impossible. Even though, according to AI analysis, the proposed coalition contract consists up mostly out of SPD policy positions and even though the SPD was granted three of the most important ministries (Finance, Labour, Foreign Affairs), the coalition would still operate firmly in the middle of the political spectrum. Apparently, not enough for the left wing of the SPD, which somewhat convincingly argue that the Social Democrats renew themselves in such a coalition.

This could tear apart the party for good. The party’s youth organization, behind its Chairman Kevin Kühnert, is campaigning against entering the coalition and the outcome of the inner-party referendum is a coin toss. The party leadership is firmly campaigning for a Grand Coalition and would certainly have to resign should the decision not be in their favour. That would mean that the SPD would have transitioned from the chairmanship of Sigmar Gabriel (currently Minister of Foreign Affairs) through Martin Schulz, who recently turned over the office to Andrea Nahles (former Minister of Labour) to an entirely new leadership, whomever that would be.

Contrastingly, the CDU is having little such problems. For a brief moment, it seemed as if Angela Merkel would have to worry about her immediate future.

Amidst the CDU’s own losses in the election, she managed to negotiate on two potential coalitions in her usual way, making little public noise and in more of a moderating role. In the instance of the Jamaica coalition, this failed entirely. In the second instance, she had to give up on many policy positions and also had to hand over the Ministry of Finance.

Expectedly, this riled up the conservative wing of the party. But much unlike the SPD, Merkel needed only a few moves to quell the unrest. The CDU’s youth organisation wanted a party convention to discuss the coalition contract – Merkel granted the wish. The conservative wing wanted representation in the would-be cabinet – Merkel axed her close confidante Hermann Gröhe (until now Minister for Healthcare) and gave the position to one of the young leaders of the conservative wing (Jens Spahn, 37). Making place for Horst Seehofer, Chairman of the Bavarian CSU and until now State Premier, is longtime Merkel ally and Minister for the Interior Thomas de Maizière.

Lastly, Merkel needed someone to take care of the party. The last few years saw losses among the party base, members who defected because they didn’t identify with Merkel’s political course. She knew she couldn’t fulfil the integratory role that the party needed. Hence, she pulled Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (otherwise known as AKK), until now State Premier in the Saar region, out of her hat. Technically, AKK (55 years old) isn’t really young. Technically, she isn’t a member of the Christian-conservative wing. Technically, she has been a close ally of the Chancellor for quite a while.

But yet, AKK is enough of an integratory figure that she can represent most of the party base. At the party convention last Monday, she gave a rousing speech that sparked hope that she might also be someone who can transition the party into the time after Merkel.

By Sunday, we will know whether we will soon have a functioning government or not. There is hope, that we do. But in any case, the two parties have a very different path to success. Angela Merkel seems on a good path to allow for a smooth transition of the CDU into the time after her Chancellorship. For the SPD, the transition process seems nothing but smooth., whether they enter the coalition or not.

Medienvertrauen der Deutschen steigt wieder

In Zeiten, in denen nicht zuletzt der amerikanische Präsident das Schlagwort „Fake News“ salonfähig gemacht hat, nimmt hingegen das Medienvertrauen der Deutschen nach einem Tief im Jahr 2016 wieder zu. Dies geht aus der Langzeitstudie „Medienvertrauen“ des Instituts für Publizistik an der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz hervor, die im Rahmen einer Befragung von 1.200 Personen über mehrere Jahre Einstellungen zu Medien untersucht hat und für Deutsche ab 18 Jahren repräsentativ ist.

Während 2016 noch 22 Prozent der Befragten angaben, man könne den Medien eher nicht oder überhaupt nicht vertrauen, meinen dies 2017 nur noch 17 Prozent. Damit hat der Anteil derer mit starkem Misstrauen in die Medien deutlich abgenommen, der sehr geringe Wert von 7% aus dem Jahr 2008 wird jedoch nicht erreicht. Im Jahr 2017 sagen zugleich 42 Prozent der Befragten, man könne den Medien eher oder voll und ganz vertrauen, 41% beurteilen differenziert.

Gleichermaßen stimmen 2017 im Vergleich zu 2016 weniger Befragte den Aussagen zu, dass die Bevölkerung von den Medien systematisch belogen werde und die Medien und die Bevölkerung Hand in Hand arbeiteten, um die Bevölkerung zu manipulieren.

Für die Demokratie ist das wachsende Medienvertrauen eine gute Nachricht. Nur wenn Bürgerinnen und Bürgern mediale Berichterstattung als glaubhaft und gut einschätzen, können die Medien ihrer Rolle als „vierte Gewalt“ gerecht werden. Allerdings: Ein gewisses Maß an Grundvertrauen darf nicht in einem völligen Ausbleiben von gerechtfertigter Kritik münden. Nur so sind die Zeitungen, Fernsehsender, Rundfunkanstalten, Radiosender und Online-Redaktionen Deutschlands zur permanenten Qualitätsverbesserung ihrer Arbeit angehalten.

Quelle: JGU Mainz