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Germany

Germans Encouraged to Give Up Their Gas Guzzlers

Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged Germans to buy more fuel-efficient cars as a way to save energy. Yet as gas prices continue to climb, opposition leaders said that's not enough.

Porsche 911 driving down the road

Some cars are made to go fast, others to be environmentally conscious

"We've got to use every chance we have to save energy," Merkel told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview published on Sunday, April 27.

Merkel, asked about rising energy and food prices, said that people need to think about various energy-saving measures including insulating buildings, using renewable energy, switching to energy-efficient appliances and buying cars that use less fuel.

"It's good for the climate and it's good for our wallet," Merkel said.

Call for price cap

Blue smart car

Some have already made the switch to save on gas

As oil prices headed to record highs on Monday of nearly of nearly $120 (77 euros) per barrel, Germany's other parties called on Merkel's government to take concrete steps to reduce gas prices.

Politicians from the Social Democratic Party, Free Democratic Party and the Left Party said government intervention is needed to lower gas prices. SPD head Heiko Maas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that gas prices had reached the upper limit of what was reasonable and that it's time for the government to cap prices.

"The rip-off by energy companies must at last be stopped," Maas said. "I would call on the chancellor to immediately make it clear whether the coalition will limit fuel, heating and gas prices."

In Germany, consumers were paying 1.43 euros on Monday per liter of unleaded gas and about 1.36 per liter for diesel.

The FDP, a free-market liberal party, also called on the government to lower gas prices, but said it should be achieved through tax cuts. Two thirds of gas prices come from taxes, said party head Guido Westerwelle.

"The government is the biggest profiteer from energy costs," Westerwelle said.

Germans unlikely to slow down

Exhaust pipe

The EU wants strict CO2 standards

Merkel's government has not made any move to cap fuel prices. Nor has it been willing to tell Germany's notoriously speedy drivers to slow down. Merkel has refused to support speed limits which would improve fuel efficiency.

It's also unclear whether Germans will buy more fuel-efficient cars despite rising gas prices. Germans remain extremely proud of cars made by companies such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche.

These cars are often less fuel efficient than French, Italian and Japanese models.

Merkel's support questioned

Biofuel pump

Biofuel continues to find support in Germany

Merkel's government has also been accused by environmental groups of backing down from earlier support for tough new European Union regulations to limit CO2 emissions. Merkel's government is concerned that the new measures will particularly harm German companies, which produce many of the luxury cars that will not meet new fuel efficiency standards.

Germany accepts the need for legal curbs on car emissions, but it wants all categories of cars to cut their emissions, German officials say. That would mean that smaller, cleaner vehicles produced by France and Italy that already meet the EU goal of 120 grams per kilometer would have to further reduce emissions. Germany has also called for a phase-in of the mandatory system, which is supposed to start in 2012.

Biodiesel issue not going away

Merkel also continues to come under heavy criticism for defending biofuels in the face of food shortages.

"I, like the chancellor, am very much in favor of maintaining the goals for biofuels," Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer told the dpa news agency on Monday in Berlin.

The levels were set "on good grounds" and remain the right way to go, Seehofer said.

Greenpeace protested the government support for biofuels on Monday, holding signs that said "Bread Instead of Biofuel."

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