24 Apr 2017 | Julian Wettengel

German elections ahead: The road to the next Energiewende government

On 24 September 2017, Germans will cast their votes in the general elections and determine who will be in charge of the next phase of the country’s energy transition. Parties have shifted into campaign mode after elections in the federal states of Saarland, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin. The Clean Energy Wire will follow the road to the next Energiewende government with background material and live coverage of milestones along the campaigns. This factsheet provides an overview of relevant events, and will be updated regularly. [UPDATES Latest poll - 22 April; results of AfD federal party conference]

Emnid 22/04/17  



4 – 5 November

Christian Social Union party conference, MUNICH

The Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) dominates politics in Germany’s largest state and has provided all of the state’s premiers since 1957. On a federal level, the CSU has a close partnership with its sister party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and three ministers in the current federal coalition government of CDU/CSU and Social Democrats (SPD). The sister parties have an understanding that the CSU does not enter election contests in any of the other 15 federal states, while the CDU steers clear of Bavaria. At the November conference, the CSU adopted a new party manifesto that focuses mainly on security, order and conservative values. It includes one paragraph on energy, and states: "The Energiewende must not come disproportionately at the expense of the citizens and the economy, or endanger jobs."


11 – 13 November

Green Party federal party conference, MÜNSTER

The Greens are currently the smallest group in the Bundestag. At the same time, they are coalition partners in 11 out of 16 state governments. Party members wield a lot of influence over the Greens' policies and other decisions as these are typically set from the bottom up. This includes the election of a frontrunner duo consisting of candidates from both the leftist and the pragmatic party wing – including at least one female candidate. The Greens dub this primary process “the big bang for the Green federal election campaign 2017”. In Münster, the Greens laid down their priorities for energy policy for 2017, which include advancing e-mobility through banning combustion engines in new cars by 2030, as well as exiting coal-fired power production as early as 2025.


1 December

Germany assumes presidency of G20

Germany took over the G20 presidency from China at the beginning of December. Its focus is clearly on the stability of the economies, but Germany’s G20 sherpa Lars-Hendrik Röller said the country would be using its presidency to “push hard” on furthering the UN’s Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and ensure that “climate and energy are looked at together.” China and the USA used the recent summit to announce the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement. Last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel induced G7 leaders to make a commitment to limit global warming to 2 degrees and decarbonise the global economy over the course of this century, at their meeting in southern Germany.


5 – 7 December

Christian Democrats (CDU) federal party conference, ESSEN

Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected as party chair at the Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) conference in Essen and will lead her party in the 2017 campaign. Merkel has been called the “Climate Chancellor”. However, energy and climate policy were on the sidelines at the conference due to other, more prominent issues, such as domestic security and migration. In Essen, the centre-right CDU laid the groundwork for its 2017 federal election campaign programme which it will agree on together with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), in spring. 



End of January

Green Party announces results of primary election of the two candidates

After months of primary campaigns, the Greens have chosen Cem Özdemir and Katrin Göring-Eckardt as the frontrunner team that will lead the party into the upcoming federal elections. In the primaries, Göring-Eckardt had no competitor, while Özdemir beat contender Robert Habeck by only a very small margin. The new frontrunners are both viewed as pragmatics who are unlikely to let ideological objections get in the way of government participation, opening up a range of different coalition options.


Early February

Social Democrats nominate Martin Schulz for chancellor 

The SPD’s decision to make Martin Schulz its candidate for chancellor has boosted the party’s standing in opinion polls. Latest figures see the Social Democrats quickly narrowing the considerable gap between them and the conservative Union of CDU/CSU, which had been almost static since the last general elections. Asked who they preferred as German chancellor if the position was decided on by a direct vote, 50 percent of respondents said favoured Schulz compared to just 34 percent for incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel. One poll even showed the SPD overtaking the CDU/CSU by a small margin. Observers note, however, that the “Schulz effect” on the SPD’s poll results might only be temporary as voters take a leap of faith for the former President of the European Parliament, who never held a major office in domestic politics. At the same time, Merkel was endorsed her CDU’s smaller sister party CSU. After months of dispute over Germany’s immigration policy, the regional Bavarian conservative party agreed to also officially nominate her as the Union's common candidate for chancellor.


12 February

Election of the Federal President of Germany

Social Democrat and former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected Federal President of Germany. Steinmeier will begin his term on 19 March. The current coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD, as well as the Green Party and the Free Democrats (FDP) had announced before the vote that they would support Steinmeier. He was elected with 931 of 1239 valid votes. The role of president of the Federal Republic of Germany is mainly ceremonial with few opportunities to influence day-to-day politics. Steinmeier was elected by an assembly made up of the federal parliament’s members (Bundestag) and an equal number of delegates elected by the 16 state parliaments, typically state politicians and public figures. The president has traditionally stood above party politics but the ability to name a successful candidate has often been seen as a test of the coalition's stability and a chance to establish cooperation between parties.



Germany hosts G20 ministers’ meetings

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s sherpa to organise the G20 summit in Hamburg is Lars-Hendrik Röller, head of her chancellery's economy, finance and energy policy department. He coordinates the work of the individual ministries that host G20 meetings before the summit in July. These include foreign, finance, labour, health, agriculture and digitalisation minister meetings.


19 March

Social Democrats' (SPD) federal party conference, BERLIN

At a federal party conference in Berlin, the Social Democrats (SPD) have elected their nominated chancellor candidate Martin Schulz as the party's chairman. In a sweeping victory, the former President of the European Parliament received 100 percent of all effective votes - the first time this approval rate has been achieved by an SPD chairman in the party's modern history. "I believe that this result is the first step in taking over the chancellery," Schulz said after the vote. His party currently is the junior partner to the conservative union of CDU/CSU in Angela Merkel's grand coalition government, in which it provides 6 out of 17 ministers. Among them is foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel. At the end of January, he handed over the economy and energy ministry to Brigitte Zypries. Under Gabriel, the ministry had been in charge of recent German energy policy projects such as the reform of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG).


26 March

State elections in Saarland

In the first of three elections at the state level this year, Christian Democrat state premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer extended the lead of the governing CDU by obtanining 40.7 percent of the votes. With 29.6 percent and 12.9 percent of the votes, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Left Party (Linke) came in second and third respectively, both losing in Germany’s smallest non-city state with respect to the previous election in 2012. With only 4 percent of the votes, the Green Party failed to surmount the 5 percent threshold necessary for entering parliament. By contrast, the right-wing newcomer AfD gathered 6.2 percent of the votes, thus entering the parliament in Saarbrücken as the fourth party. The three state elections leading up to general elections are seen a bellwether for the national vote in September. In the Saarland, the SPD could not capitalise on the so-called “Schulz-effect” named after the party’s new leader and chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, whose nomination has made the party soar in federal polls. The result is seen as a rejection of a possible government coalition of the SPD and the Left Party by Saarland's voters and likely will lead to a continuation of the grand coalition between CDU and SPD in the state. 


23 April

AfD federal party conference, COLOGNE

At a federal party conference in Cologne, Germany's right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has decided on a its election programme (find the programme's draft here). Shortly before the conference, party leader Frauke Petry announced she would not be running as the party's top candidate in the federal elections. At the conference, Petry failed in brokering a compromise on the AfD's future orientation. Delegates rejected debating Petry's motion to discuss abandoning fundamental opposition and opening the party for coalition options. Delegates in Cologne decided on Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel as dual frontrunners in September's parliamentary elections.


28 - 30 April

Free Democrats (FDP) federal party conference, BERLIN

The Free Democratic Party missed the 5 percent threshold at the last federal elections and failed to enter parliament for the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. Recent polls (see above) show the liberal, business-friendly FDP could re-enter the Bundestag next fall. The April party conference will decide on its campaign programme.


7 May

State elections in Schleswig-Holstein

Schleswig-Holstein, bordering both the North and Baltic seas, is one of the key Energiewende states, leading the ranks in new wind power capacity in 2015. But Schleswig-Holstein also suffers from lagging power grid expansion both within the state and for connections to Germany’s industrial south. In 2012, current state premier Torsten Albig (SPD) introduced Germany’s first energy transition ministry, with Green politician Robert Habeck as the first state minister for the Energiewende. Habeck proposed Schleswig-Holstein’s own energy transition and climate protection law in July, including greenhouse gas emission targets, and goals for electricity production from renewables. The law is currently being debated in the state parliament.


14 May

State elections in North Rhine-Westphalia

North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany's most populous state and one of its key economic centres. It accounts for the largest share of the German GDP, making these elections very important to the national parties. North Rhine-Westphalia is home to the country’s big utilities RWE, E.ON and their new spin-offs innogy and Uniper. Germany still relies heavily on coal for its electricity production and a large share of the country’s lignite mining and power generation happens in North Rhine-Westphalia. A possible German coal exit, as has been debated time and again in recent years, would affect this state strongly. Since the last state elections in 2012, the Social Democrats under state premier Hannelore Kraft have governed in a coalition with the Green Party.


9 - 11 June

Left Party federal party conference, HANOVER

The Left Party published a first draft of its election programme in January, calling for "socio-ecologic change", including a coal exit, expansion of renewable energies, ecologic mobility, climate protection, and the fair transition to a sustainable economy. The draft will be debated in regional conferences and a final version decided at the federal party conference in June. The party's frontrunners are Sahra Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch.


16 – 18 June

Green Party federal party conference, BERLIN

The Green Party will introduce its campaign programme at this conference, about three months before the federal elections.


25 June

SPD likely decides on election programme

At a federal party conference in Berlin, the SPD likely decides on its final campaign programme for the federal elections.


7 – 8 July

G20 summit, HAMBURG

Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided that Germany’s 2017 Group of Twenty summit will be held in the country’s largest port city, Hamburg.


24 September

Federal parliamentary elections

The federal parliamentary elections will take place on 24 September 2017. The Federal President of Germany announced the date on his website. Citizens elect the members of the German Bundestag, the country’s federal parliament and most powerful legislative body. After the election, the complicated process of coalition building can take many weeks, as can working out the government programme for the coming legislative term. At the end of the negotiations and consultations, the Bundestag elects the new chancellor, who in turn appoints the members of her or his cabinet.

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