23 Mar 2023, 13:34
Sören Amelang

Germany’s government attempts to overcome climate policy deadlock in key meeting

Clean Energy Wire / Reuters

Germany’s three-way government coalition is waging a public battle over pending climate policy decisions, only days before Sunday’s key government meeting designed to iron out the differences. “There are some disputes within the coalition that are currently being clarified,” a government spokesperson said, adding that this will take time. Energy and climate minister Robert Habeck (Green Party), who is also vice-chancellor, had accused coalition partners Social Democrats (SPD) and Free Democrats (FDP) of a lack of ambition in climate policies. In unusually open remarks that have been described as a “fit of rage”, Habeck also accused coalition partners of leaking his ministry’s plans to phase-out new oil and gas heating systems, which caused a huge stir in the country. “We have a mandate to do something for the people, for Germany, and at the moment we are not doing enough," Habeck said. He accused his coalition partners of being interested mainly in media reactions, instead of “getting key projects over the finish line.”

Party leaders and top ministers will meet on Sunday in a “coalition committee” to settle their differences. The government coalition has been bickering publicly for weeks over how to proceed with the energy transition, with mobility and heating being the most controversial topics. As a result, many legislative projects are stalling. The coalition wanted to present a comprehensive climate action policy programme by the end of last year, but it has been delayed indefinitely by these differences.
The German government's infighting is making itself felt to the rest of the EU. To the outrage of many EU policymakers and experts, Germany blocked a previously agreed de-facto ban on the sale of combustion engines from 2035 because of the FDP’s resistance. At the domestic level, the FDP also insists on giving planning priority to new motorways, which the Greens strongly reject, arguing that new 'autobahn' projects are irreconcilable with climate targets. Rare areas of common ground include the need to speed up the rollout of wind power and to boost the country’s railways.

Julia Reuschenbach, political scientist at Berlin's Free University, told Reuters last week that the FDP in particular was acting as the "inner opposition to its own government" in its attempts to raise its profile after a string of bitter regional electoral defeats. Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING Germany, said that while past German governments had learned to cope with crisis, "they do not have a good track record of dealing with structural transition - and this is what is happening now." Government insiders and analysts blame a lack of experience, electoral pressures, and the diversity of the coalition for the current stalemate, reported Reuters. In theory, chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has the power to force binding decisions, but he is concerned this will trigger a break-up of the coalition government, according to political analysts.

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