FRANKFURT AM MAIN: One of Germany’s top courts will decide Thursday whether some diesel vehicles can be banned from parts of cities like Stuttgart and Duesseldorf to reduce air pollution, a possible landmark judgement for the “car nation”.
Eyes have turned to the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig after years of failure by federal, state and local governments to slash harmful emissions.
Fine particle pollution and nitrogen oxides (NOx) contribute to as many as 400,000 premature deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular disease per year in the European Union.
That has brought Germany and other air quality sinners like France or Italy into the European Commission’s sights for possible legal action.
Some 70 cities in Europe’s most populous nation suffered from average annual nitrogen dioxide levels above EU thresholds last year, with Munich, Stuttgart and Cologne the worst offenders.
“The air is bad here, you cough and you get a scratchy throat, especially in winter,” clean air campaigner Peter Erben told AFP standing beside the exhaust-blackened facades of Stuttgart’s busy Neckartor main road.
“We want immediate action, and there is no more immediate action than reducing traffic.”
After years of warnings, environmental campaign group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) took dozens of municipalities to court to force them into tougher action.
Thursday’s case is an appeal by Baden-Wuerttemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia states after lower-level judges ruled they could impose bans on some diesels in their respective capitals Stuttgart and Duesseldorf.
An in-principle decision could be announced during the day after deliberations begin at 1000 GMT.
“It’s a question of jurisdiction: can or must a state act, or is it up to the federal government to do it?” Baden-Wuerttemberg transport minister Winfried Hermann told Agence France-Presse.
In Stuttgart, local drivers and business leaders are against even limited driving bans, joined by the city branch of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).
In their thinking, “we can’t limit people’s freedom, we can’t dispossess diesel owners,” explained Hermann—himself a member of the ecologist Greens.
A ruling would affect all vehicles sold before so-called “Euro 6” standards arrived in September 2015.
To fend off bans and protect the keystone auto industry with its 800,000 jobs, Berlin has offered a cascade of initiatives, including a billion-euro ($1.2 billion) fund for cities to upgrade public transport and buy electric vehicles.