EU’s environment policy cards reshuffled after German elections

Green party (Die Gruenen) co-chairwoman and top candidate for the upcoming federal elections Annalena Baerbock (r), German Minister of Finance and Social Democratic Party (SPD) top candidate for the federal elections Olaf Scholz (C) and Free Democratic Party (FDP) chairman and top candidate for the upcoming federal elections Christian Lindner (L) prior to a discussion board in Berlin, Germany, 16 June 2021. [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]

As Europe wakes up from Germany’s election night, one thing is clear: both the Greens and the liberal FDP are in a strong position to enter the next government. So, how will this affect Germany’s position on EU environmental matters?

The final results of the German election are now in. As expected, the social-democratic SPD came out on top, with 25.7% of the votes, closely followed by the CDU-CSU, with 24.1%. Next are the Greens (14.8%), the liberal FDP (11.5%) and the far-right AfD (10.3%).

With only 4.9% of votes, leftists Die Linke rely on a technicality to enter parliament, although the party won’t have enough MPs to play a role in coalition negotiations.

Since both the social democrats and conservatives have in principle ruled out forming another “grand coalition” together, this leaves two possible governments: the “traffic light” coalition spearheaded by the social democrats (SPD, FDP, and Greens) and the “Jamaica” coalition led by the conservatives (CDU-CSU, FDP, and Greens). 

But both depend on the Greens and the business-friendly liberals FDP’s support. With contrasting views on climate and environmental policy, a compromise between them may well be challenging to reach.

While the Greens are calling for a 2030 end date on selling new petrol and diesel cars and coal power in Germany, the FDP advocates technological openness and opposes regulations banning coal power or the internal combustion engine.

This means any coalition talks between these two parties are at risk of dragging on for months at a time when the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package of climate and energy laws is entering the EU Council of Ministers for approval.

Both social democrat chancellor hopeful Olaf Scholz and his conservative rival Armin Laschet are aware of the urgency, saying they aim to have a coalition up and running before Christmas.

“We must get a new government fast,” Peter Altmaier, Germany’s now acting economy minister, told EURACTIV on Sunday (26 September) evening, underlining that essential decisions regarding the European Green Deal were coming up. 

Altmaier made it clear that the CDU aimed to form a coalition with the Greens and the FDP.

FDP chief Christian Lindner explicitly stated on Sunday his preference for the conservatives, while the Greens have sided with the social democrats, throwing these two parties at the centre of the political game.

An offer the Greens can’t refuse?

To convince the Greens, the conservatives have several key concessions to consider: changing the country’s 2038 coal phase-out, agreeing to a 2030 combustion engine ban and giving the Greens a super climate ministry with powers to veto legislation that goes against Germany’s climate objectives.

The Greens have repeatedly expressed their discontent with the country’s planned 2038 coal phase-out, which EURACTIV understands is the minimum concession the conservatives must make to get the Greens on board.

Coal exit debate haunts German parties ahead of election

With the German elections less than a month away, the country’s agreed 2038 coal exit looks increasingly untenable. Yet, with voters increasingly concerned about the climate, leaders’ past policy choices are coming back to haunt them.

On the internal combustion engine ban, Altmaier told EURACTIV it might just be an issue that could solve itself, as current projections show 80% of cars on German streets will be electric by 2030.

However, most observers agree that neither of these concessions will be enough to make the Greens diverge from the social democrats.

In their 100-day programme for government, the Greens had envisioned a super-ministry of climate protection, equipped with a right to veto legislation by other ministries that are seen as contradicting climate protection efforts.

Overall, the concessions the conservatives would have to make would likely result in a much “greener” German position in upcoming EU negotiations over the ‘Fit for 55’ package.

German industry gears up for its next lobbying battle: the internal combustion engine

While German carmakers unveil their latest electric vehicles at the International Motor Show in Munich, the industry associations they are members of have made their position clear: the next German government must fight for the internal combustion engine at EU level.

Social democrat government, liberal concessions

Another option would see the social democrats court the business-friendly FDP and the Greens for their support in forming the next German government. 

This would have very different implications for Germany’s stance on climate policy at the EU level.

Unlike the Greens, the FDP has not made climate action a precondition for entering government, meaning the social democrats would have to dilute their environmental ambitions to get the liberals on board.

FDP chief Christian Lindner has repeatedly ruled out explicit bans on the internal combustion engine and highway speed limits while supporting the EU’s proposal to create a carbon market for heating and road transport fuels.

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Germany’s centre-left chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz wants to lead Europe’s largest economy in a coalition government with the left-leaning Greens, though polls suggest he would need the support of a third party to reach a stable majority in parliament.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon/ Alice Taylor]

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