The Green Brief – Germany’s last sacred cow

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As Germany embarked on its ‘Zeitenwende’ – or turning point – following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the key question was just how many sacred cows Berlin could slaughter.

By now, the German people have almost seen it all. 

First, a government featuring the pacifist social democratic SPD party and the Greens have accepted, after waffling about for weeks, to send lethal weapons to a foreign nation – Ukraine. This is a first since World War II and the demilitarisation that followed the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Then, Green vice-chancellor Robert Habeck was seen bowing before the Emir of Qatar – a country the Germans have long decried for its human right violations – all for the sake of getting a few cargoes of climate-wrecking LNG to replace Russian gas.

But the best is yet to come. Today, Habeck, who leads a super ministry combining the economy, climate and energy portfolios, will officially oversee a resurgence of coal in Germany. Yes, you heard this right. 

On Wednesday (23 March), Habeck is expected to announce an agreement with Germany’s coal-producing states to mandate higher outputs of lignite – the worst-polluting form of coal – to compensate for an expected shortage of Russian gas in the coming months.

With the Ukraine war, the Germans have learned to sacrifice all of their sacred cows and made spectacular U-turns on their most cherished national policies.

Except one: Germany still refuses to consider extending the lifetime of its last three nuclear power plants – the only ones aside from renewables that produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions.

For once, Berlin could have followed the example from one of its neighbours. Over the weekend, Belgium took the decision to delay its planned nuclear phase-out and extend the lifetime of its remaining two nuclear reactors by ten years, until 2035. 

But instead of winning praise for keeping low-carbon power generation capacity online for a bit longer, Belgium’s decision prompted a harsh reaction from the German government. 

“I regret Belgium’s decision to allow two reactors of the Tihange and Doel nuclear power plants to run for an additional ten years from 2025,” said Steffi Lemke, Germany’s environment minister. “In view of the safety, economic and legal risks, we rule out lifetime extensions for Germany,” she added.

Even though Lemke probably doesn’t speak for the whole German government, her position illustrates what many in Europe have become increasingly annoyed with – the German smug superiority.

That a German minister feels entitled to lecture the energy choices of other nations is quite baffling, considering that Germany’s addiction to cheap Russian gas continues to be the first source of finance for the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. By conservative accounts, Germany is paying Moscow €50 billion a year for its energy, mostly gas. 

As Russian forces continue to shell civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, German politicians are so deeply entrenched in their ideological certainties that they would rather continue funding the Kremlin’s war effort than extend the lifetime of the country’s last three nuclear plants.

Taking a step back, Germany’s Green party is probably experiencing an episode of extreme cognitive dissonance right now. When the party was founded in the eighties, the Green ideology was rooted in the anti-nuclear and anti-war movement that followed World War II and the Cold War period.

Now, the Greens are finding themselves in a rather unpleasant position: Their anti-nuclear ideology is directly financing war crimes in a neighbouring country. And despite that, all they can do is cling to what they know best – their anti-nuclear sentiment. 

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change and nuclear power will probably be the last German sacred cow standing. It’s also the one that ought to be slaughtered the most urgently.

– Nikolaus J. Kurmayer


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This week’s top stories

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News from the capitals

THE HAGUE. Dutch workers struggle with rising energy costs. Thirty per cent of employees in the Netherlands are finding it hard to make ends meet while dealing with the rise of energy bills, housing costs, and fuel costs. Read more.

COPENHAGEN. Danish MPs row over energy compensation. The so-called “heating cheque” is causing uproar in the Danish parliament as several parties in the Folketing oppose Climate Minister Dan Jørgensen’s insistence that it will not be paid until after the summer holidays. Read more.

MADRID. Public transportation operators to demand solution to rising energy prices. Taxi, ambulance and bus drivers will demonstrate on Sunday in Madrid’s city centre to demand the implementation of urgent measures to cut soaring energy prices, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Slovakia yet to plan solution to lower dependency on Russian energy. Slovakia has one of the highest dependencies on Russian oil and gas among EU member states and while other European nations have made concrete towards alternative supplies, Slovakia is still hesitant. Read more.

SKOPJE. Serbia to continue exporting oil and wheat to North Macedonia. Ministers of Agriculture of Serbia and North Macedonia agreed that the export of wheat, corn, flour and cooking oil to North Macedonia would continue in the coming months. Read more.

MADRID. Macron backs Spanish proposal to decouple electricity and gas prices. French President Emmanuel Macron supports Spain’s proposal to decouple electricity and gas prices ahead of this week’s crucial EU Council summit in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed. Read more.

STOCKHOLM. Sweden does not need radiation protection, says climate minister. There is no reason for Sweden to introduce special radiation protection measures because of the Russian occupation of several Ukrainian nuclear facilities, two officials have said. Read more.

VILNIUS. Lithuania asks EU ministers to agree on oil, energy sanctions against Russia. The EU should agree on sanctions covering the oil and energy sectors, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landzbergis urged EU counterparts who discussed the fifth sanctions package for Russia at the foreign affairs council on Monday. Read more.

TIRANA. Protests continue while government tries to conserve energy. The Albanian government has announced new measures to deal with the ongoing energy crisis, including scheduled power cuts throughout the country and “off days” for the public sector as citizen protests continue. Read more.

MADRID. Spanish farmers, food producers demand urgent measures to tackle soaring energy prices. Tens of thousands of people from across Spain took to the capital’s streets Sunday demanding measures to protect rural economies which have been battered by soaring energy prices forcing sellers to retail below production costs, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. Read more.

ROME. Draghi to Club Med Leaders: energy challenge most urgent. The prime ministers of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece who met in Rome Friday, have agreed on a common front at this week’s European Council where they will urge the EU to adopt a strong and common response to the energy crisis. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Fit-for-55 package key for Slovakia’s energy independence. Slovakia fully supports the goals and the measures areas of the Fit for 55 package, Michal Kiča, the State Secretary at the environment ministry, said at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday. Read more.

PRAGUE. Czech company launches long-awaited nuclear tender process. Czech power company ČEZ launched on Thursday a tender process to select a builder for a new nuclear unit at the Dukovany power plant. Read more.

ZAGREB | MADRID. Scientists from Croatia, Spain to look into fusion to power EU power plant. Croatian and Spanish scientists will look at the materials needed to build an EU power plant where electricity will be produced by fusion in two to three weeks. Read more.

BERLIN. Germany investigates suspected gouging of petrol prices. The economy ministry is investigating why petrol prices have remained high despite falling oil prices following accusations of price agreements between petroleum companies. Read more.

VILNIUS. Lithuania to create ‘complex solution’ on fuel prices. As fuel prices rise in Lithuania, the government is looking for ‘complex solutions’ rather than focusing specifically on fuel, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė has said. Read more.

SKOPJE. North Macedonia seeking alternatives if Russia cuts gas supplies. North Macedonia is looking into alternative ways to obtain gas, including via Greece’s Alexandroupoli, if Russia suspends its natural gas supply to Europe, government sources have said. Macedonian natural gas supplies are fully dependent on Russia via a pipeline that goes through Bulgaria. Most economic operators in the country operate on natural gas. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

SOFIA. Bulgaria to stop using Russian gas by 2023. The Bulgarian government is working on a plan to replace Russian gas after the expiration of the long-term contract with Gazprom at the end of 2022, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the state gas company, Bulgargaz Ivan Topchiiski has announced. Read more.


News in brief

‘Intermediate products’ in the circular economy. The European Commission is expected to table a Sustainable Product Initiative on 30 March, including a revision of the Ecodesign Directive and a recast Construction Product Regulation.

As part of the public consultation on the initiative, the EU executive said it would address so-called “intermediate products” such as steel, cement and chemicals. However, those won’t be addressed by this Commission, an EU official said. “It’s not something we would be doing at the end of March. But it’s certainly something we would develop further in an upcoming work programme beyond 2025,” the official told journalists at a briefing.

The process to evaluate the environmental footprint of intermediate products would be similar to the one applicable to a final product, the official explained: first, a life-cycle assessment would be performed to evaluate the environmental impacts of the product followed by a technological assessment of the solutions available to improve its environmental footprint. “That can include either minimum requirements or information” to businesses and consumers, the official suggested.

A foretaste of this will come with the revised Construction Product Regulation, which is expected on 30 March, the official continued. Intermediate products there “would be addressed in an almost identical way under that regulation,” the official explained. (Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com)

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Greek PM pledges financial relief from soaring energy costs. Greece will extend financial aid to relieve consumers suffering from soaring energy costs exacerbated by sanctions against Moscow since its invasion of Ukraine, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday (16 March). 

With soaring fuel prices hitting food and housing costs, Greece’s annual consumer inflation hit 7.2% last month, a 25-year high.Since September, Greece has already spent €2.5 billion in power and gas bill subsidies to support households, businesses and farmers. 

Mitsotakis said the new package, which will cost €1.1 billion, will include further power bill subsidies and a fuel rebate to help some 3 million vulnerable households with annual income up to €30,000. (EURACTIV.com with Reuters).


Opinions


Upcoming events

28 MARCH. Media partnership: Energy transition – challenges and opportunities in Brazil. In this webinar, the focus will be on demonstrating how Brazil is dealing with the energy transition, and the strategy to use Brazilian wealth of natural resources to meet the purpose of a neutral economy. Speakers include Carlos Alexandre, director at the Department for Energy Development, Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) and Agnes da Costa, special advisor for regulatory issues, Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME). Programme and registration here. (Organised by The Embassy of Brazil in Berlin and ApexBrasil)

30 MARCH. How to develop the heating sector to ensure better air quality? Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss the link between pollution and district heating systems, and the impact that the proposal for the recast energy efficiency directive plays in this regard. Speakers include Piotr Sprzaczak, director of the District Heating Department at the Polish Ministry of Climate and Environment, Claudia Canevari, head of unit for energy efficiency at the European Commission and Ciarán Cuffe, rapporteur for the “Energy performance of buildings” revision in the European Parliament. Programme and registration here. (Supported by PKEE)

29 APRIL. Circularity of bottles: contributing to the Green Deal. Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss what’s the best recipe for meeting circular economy and climate objectives and whether deposit return schemes are an efficient way to meet collection and recycling targets for EU natural mineral and spring water producers. Speakers include Martin Hojsík from the European Parliament’s environment committee and more. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Natural Mineral Waters Europe)


On our radar

23 MARCH (postponed, date tbc). Nature protection package: Revision of rules around sustainable use of pesticides and nature restoration targets.

23 MARCH. Proposal amending the 2017 Gas Security of Supply Regulation (SoS Regulation) and the 2009 Gas Regulation.

24-25 MARCH. European Council.

30 MARCH. Circular economy package 1:

  • Sustainable products policy initiative, including a revision of the Ecodesign Directive
  • Review of the Construction Product Regulation
  • Proposal for a Regulation on substantiating environmental claims using the Product/ Organisation Environmental Footprint methods (green claims)
  • Strategy on sustainable textiles
  • Empowering consumers for the green transition 

5 APRIL. Emissions and pollutants package:

  • Revision of the Industrial Emissions Directive and update of the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR)
  • Review of EU rules on fluorinated greenhouse gases
  • Regulation on substances that deplete the ozone layer
  • Development of post-Euro 6/VI emission standards for cars, vans, lorries and buses 

3 MAY. International partnerships and energy package:

  • New strategy on international energy engagement
  • Joint Communication on a partnership with the Gulf

25-27 MAY. G7 meeting of climate and energy ministers.

7 JUNE. Joint Communication on international ocean governance

27 JUNE. Energy Council.

28 JUNE. Environment Council.

5 JULY (tbc). New design requirements and consumer rights for electronics

20 JULY. Circular Economy Package 2:

  • Policy framework for bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics
  • Review of the Packaging and packaging waste directive to reinforce the essential requirements for packaging and establish EU level packaging waste prevention measures and targets
  • Review of the Urban Wastewater Treatment directive 

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