Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, says an English proverb. The arguments for and against the speed limit and an extension of the service life for German nuclear power plants have a similarly emotional and subjective effect on many people. What appears highly rational to some, others consider pure ideology.
Because of the gas crisis, there is now speculation about a political barter deal: the FDP will swallow a speed limit if the Greens support a postponement of the nuclear phase-out.
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Both approaches can be based on clear majorities in public opinion. A good 60 percent of the population support the provisional continued operation of the nuclear power plants, which should be switched off at the end of the year; almost 60 percent 130 km/h top speed on German autobahns.
If you look around Europe, the almost religious content of the dispute is unique. Nowhere else does free travel apply to free citizens. All other states have speed limits.
Germany is similarly lonely when it comes to dealing with the nuclear phase-out. Italy is the only country in Europe that has used nuclear power and switched it off completely. Others who have decided to phase out, such as Sweden or Switzerland, are leaving their nuclear power plants online. Other countries are getting into nuclear power or expanding it, also for climate protection.
The resistance comes from groups that form a minority in the general population, but a majority in their organized advocacy groups. The FDP exaggerates the rejection of the speed limit on the question of freedom and thus on the core of identity, the Greens the impossibility of postponing the phase-out of nuclear power.
Both belong to the government. Therefore, their resistance cannot be ignored and overcoming it requires something in return.
These structural parallels give the idea of bartering its appeal. Liberals and Greens would have to jump over their shadows. Her followers would be forced to reexamine her arguments: are they as unbeatable as those who share their views believe, or do they convince those who think differently?
Does freedom depend on whether you are allowed to speed on certain sections of the German autobahn, and would Americans, Europeans or Chinese, who are used to speed limits at home, buy fewer German cars if a limit also applied in Germany?
And vice versa: Does a limited longer service life of one to three nuclear power plants lead to consequences for fuel elements, nuclear waste, safety standards or specialist staff that cannot be solved? The employment contracts for coal-fired power plants that were to be closed could be extended. Why not also for nuclear vehicles?
Beyond such parallels, giving in is likely to be more difficult for the FDP than for the Greens – because of the relation between the impositions on their own supporters and the benefit to the general public. The nuclear phase-out would only be delayed, the speed limit would probably come forever.
In percentage terms, the savings in fuel and emissions thanks to a top speed of 130 km/h are modest. In any case, less than the gain in electricity production and security of supply through the continued operation of the nuclear power plants.
That hardly reduces the political pressure. In the new era of scarcity and limitations, clinging to questions of faith does not seem consistent. But stubborn.