Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. Photo: Pixabay

Germany's coalition negotiators agree treaty, promise coal exit date

Germany's would-be governing coalition partners have concluded a treaty that is likely to result in a final deadline for coal-fired power production in Germany. The agreement reached after weeks of intensive talks largely confirms the most important energy and climate policy positions of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) that emerged a few days earlier. However, the deal can still be scrapped by the SPD's members, who will vote on the treaty with the outcome expected in early March [UPDATES date for SPD vote]

Nearly five months after the September 2017 general elections, Germany has made a substantial step towards forming a new government coalition. The conservative CDU/CSU alliance of acting Chancellor Angela Merkel and the SPD under party leader Martin Schulz have concluded a coalition deal that would allow the two political camps to renew their so-called grand coalition, which has governed Germany since 2013. The final treaty text largely confirms the most important conclusions on energy and climate policy, which already surfaced a few days earlier. [See a CLEW factsheet on the treaty's contents on energy, climate and transport here]

“We will set an end date for coal-fired power production, both for hard coal and lignite,” SPD energy spokesperson Bernd Westphal told the Clean Energy Wire shortly after the agreement was announced. He said the special commission consisting of representatives of the affected industries, labour unions, the federal states, local authorities, and environmental organisations would have to start its work “as soon as possible,” and present its results by the end of this year. He said Germany will “absolutely” come up with an end date for coal in early 2019.

Germany's energy transition, the Energiewende, is the dual move of phasing out nuclear power and switching from fossil to renewable energy sources. The country’s renewable energy generation has recently reached new record levels but Germany so far lags behind in achieving the desired reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The negotiating parties’ confession that Germany will miss its 2020 emissions reduction goal by a wide margin sparked an outcry among climate policy observers and contributed to a growing impression that the former climate policy pioneer country risks forfeiting its international leadership role.

While a coal exit and a further expansion of renewables were not the crunch points during the prolonged negotiations over the past days, aspects of climate and energy policy are found in almost all chapters of the coalition agreement. They are mentioned under the headings of transport, housing, development, research, and European policy.

“It was a long road that has led us here today," Chancellor Merkel said about the negotiations that started in early January and ended in the early hours of Wednesday, over two days after a self-imposed deadline last Sunday. The SPD insisted on thrashing out details on labour and health policy, which it considered especially important.

"We had days of most intensive negotiations," Merkel said, adding that "it was worth it." The Chancellor said citizens observing the negotiations over recent weeks had two justifiable demands, "first: finally build a stable government. Second: think about the real needs and interests of the people." She said the coalition treaty could deliver "exactly that."

SPD members will have final say

SPD leader Martin Schulz said the coalition agreement would ensure that "Germany will return to an active and leading role in the European Union." He pledged the German government would seek close cooperation with France in order to strengthen the EU and handle major international challenges, such as climate policy.

Whether the coalition will actually materialise is still contingent on a vote by the SPD’s approximately 460,000 members. Having reluctantly entered into negotiations on a renewal of the grand coalition under Chancellor Merkel following the collapse of the so-called Jamaica coalition talks, the SPD’s leaders said that the party’s members will have the final say on whether to accept the coalition treaty. The procedure will take several weeks. The SPD will announce the result on 4 March.

The most important climate and energy policy stipulations contained in the treaty include a watered-down national 2020 climate goal; the intention to introduce a climate protection law aimed at guaranteeing that the internationally binding 2030 climate goals are met; an accelerated expansion of renewable energies, and the establishment of a special commission that will be tasked to prepare an end to coal-fired power production in Germany.

The coalition agreement also clarifies the future allocation of ministries. Conservative politician Peter Altmaier (CDU) is said to take over the energy and economy ministry (BMWi) from the SPD. The transport and digital infrastructure ministry (BMVI), the ministry for agriculture (BML) and the interior ministry (BMI) will remain with the CDU/CSU, with the department for buildings moving from the environment to the interior ministry. The Social Democrats will appoint the head of the environment ministry (BMUB), who will also be in charge of nature conservation and nuclear safety.

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