by Katja Hoyer
Tuesday, 4
January 2022
Explainer
07:00

Macron challenges Germany for EU dominance

Energy is the latest strain on the Franco-German alliance
by Katja Hoyer
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron

‘The year 2022 must be a turning point for Europe,’ said Emmanuel Macron in his New Year’s Eve address as France took over of the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Naturally, Macron’s European ambitions are causing headaches in Berlin where Angela Merkel had made German leadership of the EU seem a law of nature for 16 years. Her successor Olaf Scholz is now being challenged for it. As his unreservedly Europhile administration seeks to find its feet in Europe, it will have to compete with a French president keen to appear as the man who puts France at the centre of the map — and all without visibly exacerbating the existing rifts within the EU.

But the new year has barely begun and a tussle over European energy policy is already under way between Berlin and Paris. In order to achieve its climate and energy targets for 2030, the EU is creating a ‘taxonomy’ of sustainable economy activity and, as it stands, this intends to classify nuclear energy as ‘sustainable’. This is widely perceived as a French victory given that France sources around 70% of its electricity from nuclear power plants.

Germany, on the other hand, is not amused. Just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, three more of its remaining nuclear plants were shut down, leaving only three in the country which will also be switched off by the end of the year. While Berlin dreams of a nuclear-free Europe, Paris is planning the construction of up to six new reactors.

For Germany’s Green Party this is no mere bagatelle. It was born out of anti-nuclear movements in 1980 and its instincts on the issue have changed little now that it is part of the country’s ruling coalition. The party’s co-leader Robert Habeck is the new Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Change. In an interview with the public German broadcaster ARD, he called the decision to classify nuclear energy as green ‘wrong’ and ‘misleading labelling’.

Germany, which aims to phase out nuclear energy by the end of 2022 and coal by 2030, intends to rely on natural gas as its transitional source of energy while renewable technologies are being built up and developed. It will rely heavily on the new gas pipeline from Russia, Nord Stream 2, which is expected to have double the capacity of the existing one. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Berlin has asked that gas-burning installations will also be classed as sustainable in the EU’s taxonomy.

However, these vastly diverging visions go even further than finding solutions to the energy crisis. They are also about security. While Germany seems happy to subject itself to Putin’s goodwill, Macron has promised ‘to guarantee France’s energy independence’. Both will seek to project their model out to other EU countries. In terms of foreign policy, too, France and Germany will be tied by different commitments, particularly in respect to Russia and by extension the United States which has been hugely critical of Nord Stream 2.

While Macron may see 2022 as France’s year to shape the EU and affirm its place in the world, so does the new German government. With the European power constellation hanging in the balance, an uncertain future lies ahead for the bloc.

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Ian Barton
Ian Barton
5 months ago

While Green parties everywhere refuse to grow up – and continue failing to accept that nuclear power is a prerequisite for reducing carbon emissions in the next one to two generations – their influence will surely diminish.
Hopefully (sic) the rest of the German coalition will develop the “cojones” required to admit that Merkel’s anti-nuclear decisions were a horrendous mistake.
That really would be an act of leadership …

Last edited 5 months ago by Ian Barton
Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
5 months ago

Can’t stand Macron but on this issue he is 100% correct. Nuclear is good. Germany is backward on this and being remarkably stupid.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

This is a calculated move on Macron’s part to cement his claim to the leadership of Europe. The former leader, Germany, is faffing about with risky, pie-in-the-sky ideas in one of the most crucial policy areas…and by chucking this custard pie in their faces right at the start of the German government’s tenure and France’s presidency (which, after a bit of huffing and puffing in Austria and Germany, will inevitably lead to the anti-nuclear countries folding), Macron is immediately setting out his stall as the one with the right answers, the one who is right when the previous leader is being embarrassingly naive and unrealistic.
It’s a whack in the goolies for Germany in all kinds of ways.

Last edited 5 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Sanja Sulić
Sanja Sulić
5 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Exactly!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
5 months ago

It’s good that people are starting to note how the anti-western CND nutters of the 1980s and the anti-western econutters of the 2020s are the same people.
I wonder what it’s like to be 180 degrees wrong about something for 40 years?

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
5 months ago

Personally I was betting on Draghi becoming the de facto leader and successor to Merkel…but it looks like Macron won’t let something as piddling as a lack of real gravitas or France not being the EU’s economic powerhouse get in his way. Ooooo, lucky us (irony off).
Scholz…oh dear. I read an article a couple of weeks ago by Andreas Kluth in which he picked up on how Scholz bears a striking resemblance to a smurf. A joke which the new chancellor seems to revel in. But, as Kluth said: if you revel in the comparison, you don’t need to be surprised if others start to see you as a bit of a joke and your credibility suffers.
And that’s how I see Scholz: a harmless smurf. Whether Putin will see an equal in him is doubtful; Macron obviously thinks he can just be elbowed out the way and be told casually to come up with new solutions to the eurozone debt rules (which are favourable to France, of course).

Last edited 5 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
5 months ago

This rarely happens, but I’m with M Macron on this issue – nuclear is part of the carbon reducing programme. Germany is against it because it has destroyed its nuclear energy capability and relies on gas, hence its need to have gas declared “green”. I read recently that France is reining back on it nuclear capacity, a big mistake.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
5 months ago

So it’s not all sweetness and light in that Palace of Harmony known as the EU ?

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
5 months ago

What is it that makes our bureaucrats and technocrats such liars?

Niels Georg Bach
Niels Georg Bach
5 months ago

Germany is an ineffective backwards society. The preys for the flooding was a result of incompetence. And the efforts afterwards has the quality of a third world nation.
They didn’t even manage to send the army for help.

Last edited 5 months ago by Niels Georg Bach
JP Martin
JP Martin
5 months ago

In the absence of true innovation, let’s just change the taxonomy haha

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
5 months ago

This should be fun to watch unfold!

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
5 months ago

France is simply not wealthy enough.