How French nuclear interests weighed on Germany’s ‘traffic light’ coalition talks

Macron and Scholz, having known each other since at least 2014, will be the next Franco-German duo. Did considerations for the interests of the French result in the Germans rolling over on the issue of the EU's green finance rules? [EPA/AXEL HEIMKEN]

The new German government’s coalition treaty avoided references to nuclear energy and the EU’s green finance taxonomy in order to preserve Franco-German relations, a senior Green negotiator in Berlin told EURACTIV.

As Germany was in the midst of negotiating its first-ever three-way government, the two biggest parties in the new “traffic light” coalition, the SPD and the Greens, came out strongly against the inclusion of nuclear energy in the EU’s green finance rulebook.

Their stance was made clear in public comments made both at the UN climate conference in Glasgow and in Brussels where senior officials and lawmakers reaffirmed their opposition to nuclear.

A draft version of the coalition treaty, obtained by German newspaper Handelsblatt, said: “The German government will campaign against the inclusion of nuclear power and gas as sustainable technologies” under the EU’s green finance taxonomy.

But this sentence no longer appears in the 178-page coalition treaty negotiated by the SPD, the Greens and the liberal pro-business FDP.

“We have refrained from doing so for good reasons because we do not discuss conflicts with our most important partner France via coalition agreements,” said Sven Giegold, one of they key negotiators for the German Greens in the coalition talks.

“Franco-German relations must not be strained by a new nuclear dispute. We need a compromise on sustainable investments,” Giegold told EURACTIV on the evening of 24 November when the coalition agreement was announced.

“The taxonomy on sustainable finance must be reduced to its core instead of restricting the rights of member states to determine their post-fossil energy mix,” he said.

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The process

The fundamental disagreement between France and Germany over nuclear has not gone away though.

While France is leading a coalition of pro-nuclear countries, Germany has led the charge against atomic power by forming an opposite camp during the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

But Olaf Scholz, the new German Chancellor-in-waiting, has refrained from taking a stance publicly on the matter, apparently choosing to preserve the Franco-German relationship.

“I think the leadership of Olaf Scholz will focus a lot on France, as it will on European issues more generally,” said Daniela Schwarzer, Europe Director at the Open Society Foundation.

The German coalition agreement was negotiated in 22 working groups dealing with a variety of topics by almost 300 politicians from the SPD, the Greens and the FDP.

The result is one of the most comprehensive coalition treaty ever: 178 pages in which the three parties clarify their position on almost every issue imaginable, except the EU taxonomy on sustainable finance, which ended up being struck.

Both the FDP and the SPD declined to comment on what happened during the coalition talks regarding the EU taxonomy.

The situation was complicated: while the Greens and SPD were aligned in their opposition to nuclear, the German social democrats had initially pushed for the inclusion of fossil gas as a “transitional” source of energy in the EU green finance rulebook.

“If we cannot finance gas, coal will be prolonged,” warned Svenja Schulze, Germany’s caretaker environment minister, who spoke at the COP26 in Glasgow.

This was strongly opposed by the Greens, who are pushing for a quick phase out of fossil gas. “Gas must not be included in the taxonomy,” Giegold said on 1 November. 

In the end, the 178-page coalition agreement makes no reference to the taxonomy. And while the official reason for the decision was the preservation of Franco-German relations, the Greens may also have obtained a sweetener: in what will be a first, they also won the right of nominating the next German commissioner.

“The right to nominate the European Commissioner lies with the Greens, provided that the Commission President does not come from Germany,” reads the coalition agreement.

Germany's SPD pushes for inclusion of gas in EU green finance taxonomy

The role of gas in the energy transition should be reflected in the EU’s green finance taxonomy, according to the economy and energy spokesperson of Germany’s social democratic SPD party, which is expected to lead the next German government coalition.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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