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After Merkel: Germany’s Climate Policy

Three questions to Franziska Brantner

INTERVIEW - 17 August 2021

Angela Merkel's departure in September 2021 marks a political, economic, and geopolitical turning point. Considered the "sick man of Europe" only 20 years ago, Germany has firmly asserted its position as a leader on the continent today. While speculations spread about who the next Chancellor could be, one thing is certain: Merkel is leaving behind a significant legacy. 

How is Germany preparing for the post-Merkel era? To answer that question, Head of our Germany Program Alexandre Robinet-Borgomano and Senior Reporter Marion Van Renterghem have interviewed a number of leading economic and political actors in Germany. Through these short interviews, we will gain insight into the debates that are shaping the public opinion in the run-up to the federal elections. In this first episode, Franziska Brantner, Member of the German Bundestag and spokeswoman for the Green party answers three questions about the progress of environmental policies under Merkel and how they could evolve after the elections. 

How do you evaluate Merkel’s track record, especially in terms of environmental policies?

Angela Merkel has faced several crises during her time as Chancellor. Though she managed to effectively deal with imminent challenges within her country and at the European level, Merkel failed to take preventive actions. For instance, her delayed reaction to the financial crisis in 2008 and to the refugee crisis in 2015 has been subject to criticism. In the midst of the refugee crisis, in June 2015, Angela Merkel remained fiercely opposed to a European mechanism for the distribution of refugees arriving in Italy. That was despite the many calls from our Italian friends, who found themselves alone in the first months of the crisis. Only two or three months later, she took a completely different decision. Merkel’s cookie-cutter approach is to postpone decisions until the very last moment, even if this implies additional costs. 

Her track record concerning environmental protection is disappointing. Merkel just admitted herself that the governments under her leadership have not done enough for climate protection. Instead, they have slowed down the growth of the renewable energy sector and have given free rein to the car industry to cheat out of innovation. Under her reign, Germany stuck to its unsustainable agricultural model. Moreover, with the attempt to take Deutsche Bahn (the German railway company) to the stock exchange, Merkel thwarted the improvement of public transport.

So many bad decisions for the climate! When she came to power in 2005, she managed to negotiate a good nuclear power phase-out. Only a year later however, her government made the big mistake of getting back into nuclear power. Following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, she called for a second nuclear phase-out. These five years of back-and-forth cost German taxpayers a lot of money and should have been used to accompany companies in their ecological transition. 

Unfortunately, Angela Merkel did not have very high ambitions for climate protection. The last climate package from September 2019 proposed a carbon price of merely 10 EUR per ton of CO2. After various negotiations across the Länder, we Greens have at least managed to raise this price to 25 EUR.

These five years of back-and-forth cost German taxpayers a lot of money and should have been used to accompany companies in their ecological transition. 

There is a common perception in France that the nuclear phase-out led to a hike in CO2 emissions due to an increased use of coal. It is true that CO2 emissions have increased in Germany. However, this is mostly due to industry and transport - not to an increased use of coal. Germany started to develop its renewable energy industry as early as 1999. Unfortunately, these efforts have been undermined and slowed down by governments since 2005. I think Germany could have gone much further in the development of renewables had there been more political will. That being said,Germany is far ahead in terms of investment in renewable energies compared to France. 

What is Germany's track record in climate protection since Merkel's decision to phase out nuclear power? Didn’t this decision increase the use of coal? Would you say that Germany is a model student for climate protection in Europe or rather a counter model?

There is a common perception in France that the nuclear phase-out led to a hike in CO2 emissions due to an increased use of coal. It is true that CO2 emissions have increased in Germany. However, this is mostly due to industry and transport - not to an increased use of coal. Germany started to develop its renewable energy industry as early as 1999. Unfortunately, these efforts have been undermined and slowed down by governments since 2005. I think Germany could have gone much further in the development of renewables had there been more political will. That being said,Germany is far ahead in terms of investment in renewable energies compared to France. 

Nonetheless, Merkel could have done more by removing subsidies to CO2-intense sectors. We currently spend billions in subsidies per year, which go from the national budget to coal mining. It is regrettable that, in 2021, so much money is being invested in a sector that has a very limited future. 

Nuclear energy is not economically viable. Without billions of Euros of taxpayer money, no nuclear power plant would exist. We are convinced that these investments should be made in new technologies with the potential to be exported to other countries.

Let's invest taxpayer money in the real technologies of the future!

Europe accounts for only 7 percent of global CO2 emissions. As uranium and plutonium are scarce resources, nuclear power does not represent a technology to be exported worldwide. This is also a matter of our security. Let's invest taxpayer money in the real technologies of the future!

Knowing that a black-green coalition (a coalition between conservatives and greens) is possible, how do you see the future of the Greens in German politics? Who are the ideal European partners for the German Greens? 

We do not plan for any coalition ahead of the elections - we are fighting for strong results for the Greens. Regarding a potential coalition with the conservatives, we have differences concerning the industrial transformation. Yet, the most important disagreement between us concerns the European Union. We differ on the budget of the eurozone, the European Monetary Fund, the rules of taxation, the 5G infrastructure... 

If we compare the European program of the Greens to the one of Macron, two aspects should be considered: we agree with Macron’s vision of European sovereignty. "If we don't take care of ourselves, no one else will do it for us" - this is also our mindset. Though we have fundamental differences with him concerning his approach to domestic security. Regarding environmental protection, I think Macron’s commitment to nuclear power is wrong. For me, investing in new technologies is also a matter of European sovereignty. We must be quick to act. The Chinese are already developing the renewable energy sector and we cannot afford to rely on their technologies. For Germany, phasing out nuclear power is not a big problem. I know that for France, things will be more complicated - it will take more time, but it is possible. 

 

 

Copyright: Jens Büttner / dpa / AFP

 

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