10 Oct 2023, 13:31
Benjamin Wehrmann

German government parties weigh climate policies' impact after state election debacle

Handelsblatt / Süddeutsche Zeitung

One day after being thrashed by voters in two state elections, the three parties of Germany’s federal government coalition went into damage assessment mode and started to look for ways out of their low approval ratings halfway through their four-year term in office, including possible adjustments to their ambitious climate policy, reported Handelsblatt. In the state elections in economic powerhouse regions Hesse and Bavaria, the Social Democrats (SPD), the Green Party and the Free Democrats (FDP) together received 35 percent and less than 26 percent of the total vote, respectively, meaning they would have no chance to form a majority government there. The coalition of chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has low approval ratings in national surveys, partly due to it constantly being perceived as being in dispute over climate and energy policy questions, for example over nuclear power, fossil heating bans or the future of combustion engine cars.

The pro-business and right-of-centre FDP lost out most in the state votes, only narrowly entering parliament in Hesse and losing access entirely in Bavaria. The election losses fit into a row of similar disappointments in previous state elections since the party entered the national government under its leader Christian Lindner, who also serves as finance minister. Lindner’s response to the elections was to insist even stronger on FDP interests in government negotiations, Handelsblatt reported. The FDP leader said most people in the elections cared about Germany’s economic slump, migration and the burdens associated with its ambitious climate policy, arguing the government now had to opt for “climate action with sound judgement.” However, Lindner said his party had no intention to leave the coalition. At the same time, he stressed the parties had to analyse the result and “critically reflect on  government’s work” at the next opportunity. Contrary to Lindner’s call for sharpening the individual parties’ profiles, SPD leader Saskia Esken said many people lamented a lack of cohesion in the government coalition, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported. “We’ve got to become better at this,” Esken said. Green Party leader Ricarda Lang likewise stressed that the coalition could only succeed through close cooperation. Both the Greens and the SPD lost voter support in the elections and saw their hopes dashed to form a solid left-of-centre alternative to the incumbent conservative state governments.

Populist and conservative parties turned out to be the great winners in the two western state elections that had been seen as a clear shift to the right in the country's political architecture. Activists fear that successful election campaigns focussed on attacks on climate policy without offering alternatives for emissions reduction could mean the room for compromises could be shrinking in the country.

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