TEE – High Noon in Germany

Trans-Europe Express is EURACTIV's weekly roundup of news from across Europe.

On 4 January, the German government quietly presented its National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP), thus meeting at the very last minute a European Commission requirement to member states to finalise the first draft by the end of 2018, before sending a final version in December 2019.

But Germany, which likes to pride itself internationally for being an energy transition champion, wrote a fairly vague document with no clear targets.

Berlin presented an incomplete National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) draft to the European Commission and quietly published it online, Jakob Schlandt, head of the energy news service at EURACTIV’s media partner Tagesspiegel, reported.

The 140-page document does not do justice to its importance by stating it is only “provisional” and listing five problem areas where the strategy for emissions reduction remains unclear, such as efficiency and power grid extensions, he also said.

The report remains vague in many sections, in contrast to the European Commission’s call for substantial proposals that can be evaluated, while it also says that final targets can only be specified once the conclusions of the coal exit commission and the task force on transport are available, Schlandt added.

This vagueness mirrors the ongoing hesitancy from Berlin to tackle its greenhouse gas emissions: Last summer, the German government conceded that the country is on course to widely miss its climate 2020 climate targets.

And this at a time when extreme weather events are already a reality, with Germany being no exception.  According to the latest figures released by German National Meteorological Service (DWD), 2018 has been the warmest year in Germany since measurements began in 1881.

The average temperature in 2018 was 10.4°C and thus 2.2°C higher than the average temperature between 1961-1990. The previously warmest year with 10.3°C had been 2014. Eight out of nine hottest years since 1881 have occurred in the 21st century, DWD said.

“This remarkable concentration of warm years clearly shows that global warming is unchecked,” DWD vice president Paul Becker said in a press release.

Yet, precisely when Germany needs to show a strong hand in seriously tackling global warming at home and abroad, Berlin still has decisions pending on a coal exit, sustainable mobility and heating, as well as a Climate Action Law to make these legally binding.

The very much-awaited roadmap for Germany’s coal phase-out should have been released shortly before the start of COP24. It has now been postponed to 1 February.

This was primarily due to disagreement on how the financial means set aside for cushioning an end to coal power should be allocated among the coal mining states, causing much impatience not only among environmental NGOs, but also in the private sectors, which argues it needs the political stability to secure future investments in the energy and climate fields.

Energy wise, it is high noon in Berlin, but it is not clear if things are really moving.

The governing coalition is planning to present the first elements of the Climate Law around Easter, according to a spokesperson at the environment ministry.

On 5 January, German weekly Der Spiegel reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel will personally weigh in on the stagnating negotiations over the end of coal-fired power production in the country.

In a letter from the German Chancellery, Merkel said she will meet the premiers of the country’s four lignite (brown coal) mining states, as well as the heads of the so-called coal exit commission, on 15 January to discuss “the state of affairs and the future process” of brokering a socially acceptable and technologically feasible end to coal power in Germany.

According to Der Spiegel, the Chancellor has been dissatisfied with the commission’s work.

On 9 January, Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier appointed municipal utility top-manager Andreas Feicht as the new state secretary for energy, handing one of the crucial Energiewende jobs to a practitioner with first-hand experience of the transition challenges.

By appointing a new state secretary for energy policy, Altmaier resolved a staffing issue that has tainted his tenure since taking over the ministry in March 2018. Feicht so far headed local utility WSW AG in Wuppertal in western Germany.

Feicht will start his new job on 1 February, nearly one year after his predecessor Rainer Baake announced his resignation in a letter to Altmaier, in which he sharply criticised the energy and climate policy plans of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s newly formed coalition government.

The long-term vacancy had fuelled criticism over the conservative (CDU) minister’s way of working. With a pending decision on the end of coal fired-power production, the planned Climate Action Law and pressing decisions about the further expansion of renewable energy sources, 2019 will be a crunch year for German energy and climate policy.

Euractiv’s media partner Clean Energy Wire contributed to this edition of Trans-Europe Express.

Inside Track

by Alexandra Brzozowski

Schengen dreams. Romania should be granted membership of the EU’s passport-free travel zone during its Council presidency stint, says European Parliament President Tajani.

Movers and shakers. As the entire Commission is swooping on Bucharest for the traditional opening ceremony, have a look at the people behind the presidency.

Brexit countdown. If the UK Parliament rejects PM May’s Withdrawal Agreement next Tuesday, as is widely expected, she will be forced to present a new Brexit plan within three days.

Élysée 2.0. France and Germany have pledged to strengthen their alliance in a bid to show that the EU’s main axis remains strong.

Controversial reforms. Drivers from Bulgaria, where average monthly wages are among the lowest in the EU, protest against the EU’s mobility package.

Fading out? Poland gets a pass as Romanian presidency struggles with rule of law approach.

Three times charm. Latvia’s president nominated a current MEP as prime minister after two other picks failed to form a government after elections held in October.

Breaking the silence. As the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia continues, EPP-Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber came out on Macedonia name change deal.

Ready to go. Austria is in the starting blocks for its European elections campaign after the end of serving their Council presidency in Brussels.

Nike tax. An investigation was set up to determine whether the Netherlands had breached EU rules by allowing Nike to cut its tax bill through complex financial schemes.

‘Hell on earth’. Living conditions in the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, housing thousands of refugees, are particularly difficult.

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