All parties are pursuing their own ideological agenda
The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter once wrote that “the first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie.” No sentence is a better embodiment of the ongoing farce around the continuation of Germany’s remaining three nuclear power plants.
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine there has been a debate as to whether Berlin should postpone the 2011 plan to exit nuclear energy, a power source that in 2021 was still providing around 13% of Germany’s electricity. Even the Green Party, with its general suspicion towards everything that is not wind or solar powered, felt it necessary to at least commission a study regarding the feasibility of keeping nuclear power online.
Or so it seemed. New documents uncovered by a German newspaper have revealed that in early March Vice-Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck apparently issued an examination of the country’s nuclear power plants without even talking to its operators.
As some have suspected from the beginning, there never was a real interest in an objective assessment, but rather a desire to preemptively end the debate. After continued warnings of a worsening energy crunch, including the possibility of rolling blackouts, an agreement was reached to extend the lifetime of two nuclear power plants until April 2023. Nonetheless, the Green fibbing on the issue is deepening a rift in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government.
The smallest member of Germany’s three-party coalition is increasingly worried that being part of a government with strong Left-leaning tendencies could be electoral suicide. In the state elections of Lower Saxony on 9th October, the FDP fell short of the 5% electoral threshold and will no longer be represented in the regional parliament, an ominous sign for a party represented in the federal government. In the 2013 general election they were ousted from the Bundestag, having been in a coalition government with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats since 2009.
Understandably, many in the party fear a repeat of history, forcing leader Christian Lindner to sharpen its profile and make the FDP a louder voice in the public discourse. In a move that caught both the Greens and the Social Democrats by surprise, Lindner announced his support for an immediate beginning of fracking on German soil, a topic that has been a perennial taboo across the political divide.
While it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon, it has become clear that Germany is increasingly governed by a coalition in name only, where every party is pushing its own ideological agenda. Even Chancellor Scholz has no problem ignoring his partners on significant matters. Just a few days ago he rammed through the sale of 25% of one of Hamburg harbour’s port terminals to the Chinese state-owned COSCO shipping conglomerate. This went against the advice of his own ministries and the European Commission.
As happens with most increasingly dysfunctional coalitions, the only common ground can be found in an expansion of public spending. In Germany’s case this would be the massive promise to pump up to 5% of its GDP, or €200bn, into the economy in order to soften the fallout from rising energy prices. This doesn’t bode well for German stability, seeing as recent polls show that the government has already lost its majority.
Officially, new federal elections are not supposed to take place before the autumn of 2025. Given growing tensions within the government and the worsening economic outlook for 2023, though, one should prepare for the possibility of a new election much sooner.