Winfried Kretschmann, set to become Germany's first Green party premier in the state of Baden-Württemberg, has ruffled feathers by suggesting the state's key auto industry must change priorities if it hopes to survive.
The car industry is Baden-Württemberg's economic motor
The incoming state premier of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, raised eyebrows with an interview on Sunday in which he said his auto industry-dependent state should produce fewer cars and make sure they use less fuel.
"Fewer cars are of course better than more," Kretschmann told Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag. "We have to sell mobility concepts in the future, not just cars. That means walking, bike riding, driving and train riding. We have to link these things together cleverly, so that we continue to make progress and prevent environmental damage."
The southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg is home to several auto-industry suppliers. It also serves as the headquarters of two of Germany's most iconic carmakers - Daimler, parent company of Mercedes Benz, and Porsche.
Kretschmann is to be the first Green Party state premier
"The great green vision is to create green product lines from this strong industrial region," he said. "We want to prove that economy and ecology belong together if we don't want to destroy our livelihood."
Kretschmann said Baden-Württemberg had a strong research landscape that would provide the right conditions for green innovation.
New kid on the block
Kretschmann's Green Party made history on March 27 when it won an unprecedented 24 percent in state parliamentary elections - enough to lead a coalition government with the center-left Social Democrats. Kretschmann is to be the first-ever Green Party state premier.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), lost power in the state which it had governed since1952.
Discussions on the state's auto industry were all but absent during election campaigning. The Greens owed their victory in large part to clever organizing around two issues: growing anti-nuclear sentiment after Japan's tsunami-induced nuclear catastrophe, and opposition to the controversial Stuttgart 21 project, which would turn the city's central train station from an above-ground terminus to a subterranean station.
The Baden-Württemberg Green Party made historic gains in state elections
Porsche to Kretschmann: Let's talk
Kretschmann's comments drew quick responses, with automaker Porsche saying it wanted to speak with Kretschmann as soon as possible on the state auto industry's future.
"We want to invite him to start a dialogue," a Porsche spokesman said on Sunday. "This should be the beginning of a constructive cooperation."
The spokesman declined to comment on Kretschmann's suggestion that carmakers build fewer cars, but added, "The vehicles we produce are highly efficient."
Porsche says it wants to start a 'constructive cooperation' with the Green government
CDU General Secretary Hermann Gröhe was quick to criticize Kretschmann's statements, saying his "absurd calls make clear who will be the big loser in this government: the employees of Daimler, Porsche and the many suppliers."
Some 180,000 jobs are dependent on car production in the region around Baden-Württemberg's capital Stuttgart, alone.
But Kretschmann said the auto industry should not have any worries about a Green party state premier, but rather that it should focus on building cars that use less fuel.
"If the automobile industry doesn't manage to become greener, it won't have any future," he said.
Author: Andrew Bowen (Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar