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27 Sep 2021, 14:05
Kerstine Appunn Charlotte Nijhuis

"Climate crisis as a top priority" - Reactions to German federal elections

Photo: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons

The Social Democrats (SPD) under chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz have narrowly won Germany's federal elections. According to preliminary final results, the SPD received 25.7 percent of votes, while the conservatives (CDU/CSU) under chancellor candidate Armin Laschet scored 24.1 percent, their worst result ever. The Green Party came third with 14.8 percent of the vote, followed by the Free Democrats (11.5%) and the right-wing AfD (10.3%). The results mean the country is now heading towards a novelty three-way coalition government. This is a collection of reactions from German politicians, industry, analysts, NGOs, activists and media. It will be updated throughout the day. [UPDATE with preliminary final results & media commentary]

Please note: This collection complements the article "Germany heading for three-party government with climate focus after tight elections."

 

Politicians

Armin Laschet, CDU chancellor candidate

"We have a clear mandate from our voters: A vote for the CDU is a vote against a left-led government," CDU chancellor candidate Armin Laschet said in a speech following the first exit polls. "Therefore, we will do everything to form a government under leadership of the [conservative] union. Because Germany needs a coalition for the future that modernizes our country. A coalition for more sustainablility in every sense, in climate action and finances. We have the responsibility for future generations, for our children and our grand-children. The responsibility to take this more seriously, especially with climate action. We have to meet this responsibility better than so far, in particular in climate action."

Olaf Scholz, SPD chancellor candidate

"It is going to be a long election night. But it is certain that many people voted for the SPD because they wanted change and because they wanted that the next chancellor of this country to be Olaf Scholz," the chancellor candidate said. Asked whether he was planning a "climate government" the Greens called for, Scholz said that was his intention. "In the first year of the new government, we will have to make decisions to roll out renewables, so industry can implement investments to become climate-neutral while remaining competitive."

Annalena Baerbock, Green Party chancellor candidate

"We have a mandate, not only for future generations, but one senses that this country needs a renewal," said Green Party chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock. "There is a sense of a real awakening and above all: This country needs a climate government, that is the result of this federal election,"she added. "Robert [Habeck] and I will meet this responsibility together in the coming days - and as always: together," she said, referring to co-leader of the party Robert Habeck.

Robert Habeck, Green Party co-leader

"Disappointing is not the right word, after all we have improved significantly and have a good chance to enter the next government strong. But clearly, this is not what we wanted to achieve," said Green Party leader Robert Habeck. Looking at possible coalitions, Habeck said, "The next government has to make something out of the situation, and the government mandate goes to whoever can lead a coalition that gives answers that fit the time. That is the benchmark." Habeck also made it clear: "We want to govern."

Christian Lindner, FDP leader

"The FDP is strengthened, we are in double figures for the first time in our history in two consecutive elections, that has never happened before. [...] We can only say that we are now very independently established in double figures," FDP leader Christian Lindner told ZDF. He added that this would also be communicated during coalition negotiations. With regard to possible coalitions, Lindner said that the party is closest to the CDU/CSU in terms of content, but who would talk to whom first and in what format was still an open question. Democratic parties should never exclude the possibility of talking. Nevertheless, Lindner emphasises that the greatest agreement on content is to be found in a Jamaica coalition (CDU/CSU, Greens and FDP).

 Michael Kellner, Green Party Secretary General

"It is hard for me to be happy about this increase because the expectations were clearly higher," the Green Party's Secretary General Michael Kellner said after the first exit polls showed a 15 percent share of the vote for his party. On possible coalition options, he said: "We said before that we had a preference with the SPD. We saw that the SPD, that Olaf Scholz, made significant gains and won." He added that the CDU/CSU scored a historically weak election result. But it is also clear that "we are ready to talk to all the democratic parties," Kellner said.

Volker Wissing, FDP Secretary General

FDP Secretary General Volker Wissing said the results showed that "Germans do not want a red-red-green federal government. That, too, is a good signal on this election night." Wissing said. He declined to comment on possible coalitions, saying it was not yet the time to talk about it.

Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, Left Party leader

"It's a big blow for us," said Left Party leader Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, referring to the forecast, which sees her party hovering around the five percent treshold needed to get into parliament. "We have made many mistakes," Hennig-Wellsow added. However, she said, the party is ready to "redevelop" itself.

Industry

Andreas Kuhlmann, head of the German Energy Agency (dena)

"There is hope for a government that is characterised by strong will, a market economy orientation and industrial policy competence," Andreas Kuhlmann, head of the Germany Energy Agency, told Tagesspiegel Background. "The energy transition and climate protection must be better organised, and the transformational changes must be better explained. The crux of the matter will be whether the new government sees itself as a team. For the first years of the legislative period, it will hardly be possible to achieve the targets set out in the Climate Action Law. Too much has been left undone in recent years. New momentum must be built up. A situation that requires trust and judgement."

Wolfram Axthelm, director of the German Wind Energy Association  (BWE) and the German Renewable Energy Association (BEE)

"The emerging results show that our society has become more differentiated and colourful," Wolfram Axthelm told Tagesspiegel Background. "Now it is up to the parties. In the energy sector, the differences between the players have recently been small. Climate change and the energy transition are central topics of debate. Now it's about solutions and opportunities - fast, decisive action is needed to expand renewables. This will create impulses for employment and industrial policy. Concentrated negotiations and a swift formation of a government are necessary. Our country needs a new beginning."

Kerstin Andreae, head of the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW)

"No matter which coalition it will be in the end: Any new government must quickly get down to business. A new federal government must clear the way for the accelerated expansion of renewable energies and the expansion and restructuring of the energy grids," Kerstin Andreae, head of the German Assocation of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) told Tagesspiegel Background. "At the same time, it will have to deal with the issue of energy prices and the hydrogen economy. This will be one of the most important energy and industrial policy fields of action in the coming legislative period. And: In the last legislative period, many energy policy laws were literally chased through the parliamentary process without the affected industries being able to comment on the proposed legislation within a reasonable period of time. Such a hectic legislative process, which led to mistakes and repair laws, must not be repeated."

Simone Peter, president of the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE)

"Climate protection and social justice were election-dominating issues," said Simone Peter, president of the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE). "The voters' mandate to the parties is clear: climate protection must no longer be talked down, but should be at the centre of the next legislature. An accelerated energy transition and the expansion of renewable energies are key projects for this," she said, adding: "The next four years must be a legislative period of action for the future and for the location. Better climate protection and an innovative industrial policy can be combined and successfully shaped through a reorganisation of employment and social balance. In order for the 2020s to become a decade of modernisation and for the energy transition to receive new impetus for growth, the ecological modernisation of our entire energy industry must now be accelerated significantly. In this context, it is important to build on Germany's earlier successes as an energy transition pioneer and to set the framework conditions for the modern energy system of the future in motion."

Ingbert Liebing, managing director of the German Association of Local Utilities (VKU)

"The next federal government is faced with the central question: How do we achieve the stricter climate targets and how do we keep supply and disposal - i.e. services of general interest for the economy and people - safe and affordable? How do we achieve this transformation and at the same time secure prosperity and economic strength? We need instruments and measures with which we can also achieve these goals," said managing director of the German Association of Local Utilities (VKU). "The municipal economy is a decisive player and guarantor of success here: municipal approaches and solutions are diverse and a central building block for achieving climate neutrality in Germany, because climate protection must be implemented locally, he said, adding: "To achieve this, we generally need more planning and investment security as well as attractive investment conditions for all areas and sectors, even beyond a legislative period. But above all, we need fast and targeted decisions and implementation concepts: Within 100 days, a renewable energy programme and an infrastructure update for the expansion - because every tonne of CO2 saved counts. To achieve this, we need consistency at national and European level."

Tim Meyerjürgens, managing director of Tennet Germany

"Grids are the backbone of the energy system and thus the prerequisite for achieving the goal of climate neutrality by 2045. Therefore, there is no time to lose here: The new federal government must quickly set the course so that the expansion can be accelerated," Tim Meyerjürgens of Tennet Germany told Tagesspiegel Background. "We should also think together about what the grid infrastructure should look like in 2045 so that it integrates all parts of the future energy system. In addition, the potential of offshore wind in the North Sea must be fully exploited and the pace of renewable energy expansion must be increased in general."

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, head of Hydrogen Europe

"A clear mandate emerges for both the traffic light and Jamaica to develop their respective hydrogen strategies," Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, head of Hydrogen Europe, told Tagesspiegel Background. "The clearest perspective for this is the continuation of the previous hydrogen strategy - but with the industrial policy accents that the SPD and FDP have continuously emphasised in their election campaign. With the contracts for difference, the Greens will make their contribution to significantly lowering the price of the still expensive green hydrogen for consumers and users. The current legal situation is extremely electricity-heavy and is costing Germans record amounts of electricity. In the coalition agreements, the issues of renewable electricity and hydrogen must be negotiated on an equal footing."

Gas industry association Zukunft Gas

The German gas industry association Zukunft Gas welcomes the election outcome, saying change is necessary to achieve progress in the energy transition. "The German gas industry [...] is ready and willing to contribute its expertise and innovative strength to make the energy transition a success," said chairman Timm Kehler. He calls on the next government to ramp-up the hydrogen economy: "We need affordable hydrogen, especially for industry, so that the CO2 savings in Germany are actually achieved through low-CO2 processes - and not by relocating CO2-intensive production abroad."

Association of family businesses

"Red-Red-Green would have been a worst-case scenario for the future of Germany as an industrial location," said Reinhold von Eben-Worlée, president of the association of family businesses, referring to a coalition between the SPD, the Left Party and the Greens. "Tax increases such as a wealth tax or a stricter inheritance tax would hit those who form the backbone of our economic and social order," he said. "It is a very good sign for stability that red-red-green is apparently not an option. This is what we family entrepreneurs have been campaigning for."

German farmers' association

The German farmers' association calls on the parties to begin exploratory talks quickly. "We farmers need political clarity and perspectives," said president of the association Joachim Rukwied. "Both the Commission on the Future of Agriculture and the Borchert Commission have proposed solutions. It is imperative that this be taken up by the parties. Above all, it is a matter of securing the future of agriculture and rural areas. The primary goal must be to prevent a structural collapse and to ensure that farms have prospects for the future and are valued more highly."

Analysts

 Jana Puglierin, head of European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) Berlin office

“In the face of international crises, and domestic concerns about Germany’s role within the EU, a strategy of “more of the same” is unlikely to hold," said Jana Puglierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations. "For Germany to retain its status as the leading driver of EU policy, the new government will need to provide its European partners with clear-cut ideas about how the EU can compete in a divided and crisis-shaken world," she said, adding that the new government also "needs to build public consensus around its European and foreign policy. Otherwise, there is likely to be growing mistrust of elites and a backlash against the institutions and practices on which Germany built its prosperity and success."

Veronika Grimm, member of German Council of Economic Experts

"Climate protection and digitalisation must be the top priorities of the coming legislative period. Instead of a multitude of small-scale measures, there needs to be a coherent overall climate policy concept with CO2 pricing as the guiding instrument - and across all sectors at the European level," said Veronika Grimm, energy economist and member of the German Council of Economic Experts. "In addition, the expansion of infrastructure for energy transport and mobility must be implemented across Europe much faster than planned so far, and global cooperation in climate protection must receive much more attention. Europe, the USA and China must move closer together on climate protection, for example in a so-called climate club - they are the largest CO2 emitters, but at the same time, as the largest economic powers, they also have global opportunities for action," she said, adding: "The global climate goals can only be achieved if technologies are quickly available that make climate-friendly economic activity possible in all countries worldwide."

Ottmar Edenhofer, economist at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

"Before the election, the parties liked to talk a lot about the climate. If they are serious, they must now get serious: The new government must tackle a targeted energy tax reform, make the CO2 price the guiding instrument, introduce a fair social compensation in the CO2 price, create a strong expansion of renewable energies, and start an active foreign climate policy that makes the EU Commission's Green Deal a success and brings the USA and China to the table with Europe for the global reduction of emissions," said Ottmar Edenhofer, economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). "All of this applies regardless of which coalition is now formed. For all parties face the same challenge: limiting climate hazards such as floods and heat waves, and speeding up climate policy as economic policy," he said, adding: "This is not a question of party colour. The climate crisis is impartial: it affects everyone in the long run. Those who dither now are driving up the costs and the risks for the people. We cannot afford any more years of standstill."

Arne Jungjohann, political analyst

"The climate crisis as a top priority: The climate crisis will become a top priority for the next coalition, regardless of its party constellation. Climate change has finally become a cross-party issue. The 2021 election was the first of its kind in which the Social Democrats and the Conservatives witnessed that commitment to stronger climate action pays off for them at the ballot box. The unwritten law previously was that any attempt to raise the climate issue would play into the hands of the Greens. This is apparently no longer the case. Indeed, the Greens’ showing would have been stronger if the SPD and CDU/CSU hadn’t addressed climate prominently in their campaigns. The election has given the next coalition a strong mandate for a climate policy. Now the parties must deliver."

Brick Medack, head of Berlin office think tank E3G

“After 16 years of Merkel´s reign Germany is facing a decade of renewal which refers also to climate and energy policy. Each and every in-coming German government has to deliver quickly, on the new national climate target, on the EU´s Fit for 55 package, on COP 26. The coming years are decisive, there is no time to lose.”

Pieter de Pous, policy advisor at E3G

“Germany’s slow 2038 [coal] phase out has been a negative example to the world since the day it was decided, and it has already been overtaken by reality,” said Pieter de Pous from E3G. “Even early results have made it very likely that a new German government will have no choice but to adopt more ambitious climate measures and finally hit the coal exit accelerator. A coal phase out this decade is unavoidable, and with the first climate UN meeting in two years looming, the next German government has an incredible chance to signal it is ready to step up on the greatest existential challenge of our time.”

Kirsten Westphal, energy expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)

"Energy, climate, industrial and technology policy must be thought together for sustainable growth. The parties that will negotiate a coalition agreement each have different priorities - this can be an opportunity. In the political discourse, the primacy of climate policy has dominated in recent years and the climate targets have been set. There is no longer a lack of goals, but a lack of implementation," energy expert Kirsten Westphal told Tagesspiegel Background. "The current energy price crisis also makes it clear that competitiveness and energy security must continue to be political issues. Alongside renewable electricity, hydrogen will be a key to an energy and industrial turnaround and can also contribute to the sustainable stability of the energy system."

Georg Zachmann, energy economist at economic think tank Bruegel

"Climate protection was an important issue for all successful parties and the core issue for the Greens, who seem to have two government options with traffic light and Jamaica," energy economist at think tank Bruegel Georg Zachmann told Tagesspiegel Background. "In both options, it will be exciting whether FDP or Greens get the finance ministry - which will play an important role for spending programmes, green EU budget rules (both especially under a traffic light), but also for negotiating the ETS reform. Possibly, under Jamaica, the Greens would get the finance ministry as a pledge and then drive German climate policy strongly via European instruments (especially the emissions trading)."

Heiko Kretschmer, head of the consultancy Johanssen + Kretschmer

"A difficult formation of a government lies ahead in the coming weeks," consultant Heiko Kretschmer told Tagesspiegel Background. "A power struggle in the CDU/CSU is looming - a momentum that could benefit Olaf Scholz. If the SPD and the Greens agree to bring forward the coal phase-out and to phase out the internal combustion engine, much common ground will prevail. The FDP could offer a good complement with a policy for innovation, new technologies, research and education. If the SPD and the Greens accommodate the FDP on financing issues, for example by launching the necessary investment programmes primarily from private rather than public capital, it could be enough for the traffic light coalition. But things could turn out quite differently."

Activists and environmental NGOs

Fridays for Future

"The climate crisis is one of the most important issues of all - that is also our success," the climate action group Fridays for Future wrote on Twitter. "But climate justice was not on the agenda in this election. If the parties do not present new measures, we will miss the 1.5°C target. That's why we need our pressure now."

Carla Reemtsma, activist Fridays for Future

"The climate strike on Friday showed that [...] this has long ceased to be a fringe issue," said Fridays for Future activist Carla Reemtsma, referring to the climate protests on 24 September. "All parties have committed to the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement - even if the measures are insufficient. Now they have the responsibility to really deliver and not just pose on election posters as climate chancellors," she said. The parties have to "actually take action and also talk about the climate crisis in its radicality, with all the consequences it has, and not just make climate protection seem like a burden."

Kai Niebert, president of environmental umbrella organisation DNR

"It's already clear: The climate is the winner of this election. It's no longer a green topic, but one of all democratic parties. Now its about which coalition will save it (the climate) most resolutely and in a just way."

Fabian Hübner, campaigner Europe Beyond Coal

“Compromising for coal and dragging its feet on climate change has clearly undermined the previous government in the eyes of a public that wants climate action and the protection of villages, like the iconic Lützerath, which is currently facing destruction for coal mining that cannot happen under any responsible climate plan,” said Fabian Hübner, Europe Beyond Coal Germany campaigner. “The next government will be decided by its climate ambition, and that will ultimately mean moving Germany’s coal phase to 2030 at the latest.”

Sascha Müller-Kraenner, managing director of Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH)

"For the first time, the issue of climate protection has helped to decide an election. This is also shown by the election result of the Greens, who achieved the highest increase in votes of all parties. All democratic parties represented in the new Bundestag have clearly positioned themselves to achieve the Paris climate goal,"  Sascha Müller-Kraenner told Tagesspiegel Background. "The task now is not to seek the lowest common denominator in the upcoming coalition negotiations, but to put together an ambitious package of regulatory and fiscal measures. We will judge all parties by the fact that concrete actions now follow. This includes a coal phase-out by 2030, a massive expansion of renewable energies and a fixed end date for the combustion engine."

 

Media

At first sight, this election result could be interpreted as a defeat for climate action because both the Green Party and the Left Party, which have the most convincing answers to the climate crisis, fell short of the expectations raised during the campaign, writes Malte Kreutzfeldt in a commentary for taz. “But it is still too early for too much frustration. After all, the CDU/CSU and the SPD have announced that they will pursue climate policy that is in line with the Paris targets,” Kreutzfeldt says. It will be the task of the Greens, who are needed for any new government apart from a renewal of the last CDU/CSU-SPD coalition, to make Paris-compatibility a mandatory prerequisite for a coalition, he added.

Looking into the several different combinations possible for the future three-party coalition, Tagesspiegel Background Energy & Climate writes that any combination will require “a lot of compromise.” But at least it became clear in the short remarks of the candidates that climate policy will be taken seriously and be at the centre of any coalition agreement, they write.

Only about 15 percent of Germans have elected a party whose programme is roughly compatible with the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit of the Paris Agreement and who wants to do much of what is needed for climate action, for example: phasing out coal by 2030, stronger CO2 pricing, phasing out the internal combustion engine, implementing a speed limit, reducing industrial-sized farming and pushing the hydrogen industry, writes Joachim Wille in a comment piece for klimareporter. “Now it is a matter of salvaging what can be salvaged from the policies necessary to protect the climate,” Wille writes. The best solution would be an agreement between the SPD and the Greens for they have the most in common and could get the FDP to make “important climate policy concessions.”

Stefan Kuzmany warns the Greens in Spiegel Online against entering an alliance with the conservatives. He points out that only 15 percent of the Greens’ voters have said in a survey that they consider a coalition with the conservatives and the Free Democrats desirable. "And it would rightly irritate not only them if the elections result in a Chancellor Armin Laschet elected with Green votes - the man who said after the flood disaster in the summer that one should not change policies because of such a day."

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