German coalition shows cracks over Russia and energy

Since coming into office, Scholz has made a number of comments suggesting he wants to take key foreign policy matters into his own hands as much as possible. [EPA-EFE/MICHELE TANTUSSI]

Discord within Germany’s traffic-light government comes after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rebuffed the Greens on high-level issues such as relations to Russia and the EU’s green taxonomy.

According to German daily BILD, Scholz reportedly wants to make Russia Chefsache (an executive matter), meaning his foreign minister Annalena Baerbock will likely play a smaller role on the issue.

The alleged move comes amid growing concerns over a potential Russian attack on Ukraine, a question on which the Social Democrat chancellor and his Green coalition partner have increasingly divergent views.

The Greens have been vocal advocates of a hard stance vis-à-vis Russia. In December, Baerbock had promised “harsh diplomatic and economic consequences” should Russia interfere in Ukraine.

Her party colleague, economy minister Robert Habeck, has also publicly mulled consequences for the gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, connecting Germany and Russia.

Scholz, for his part, has called Nord Stream 2 a “private-sector undertaking” that should not be politicised.

With his move to take control over the issue himself, the chancellor thus seems to be making an effort to silence the Greens’ more hardline stance.

Since coming into office, Scholz has made several comments suggesting he wants to take key foreign policy matters into his own hands as much as possible.

Asked in December whether Baerbock controlled Germany’s foreign policy, Scholz had said that the government’s actions “start with the chancellor”.

According to BILD, Scholz is looking for a “fresh start” for Germany’s policy on Russia and might be planning a meeting with Russian President Putin already in January.

Moreover, Scholz’s foreign policy advisor, Jens Plötner, is set to meet with his Russian and French counterparts during the course of this week, a government spokesperson said on Monday.

But Russia is not the only issue where Scholz seems to be setting out to water down the Greens’ stance.

Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters on Monday that, while Scholz “opposes” the planned inclusion of nuclear energy in the EU’s green taxonomy, Germany would not join Austria in suing the European Commission over its draft plans for the taxonomy.

“The European Commission seems to be on solid ground legally,” Hebestreit said. He added that taking legal action would only be possible if the Commission had overstepped its mandate in proposing the rules, but not against their content.

However, reactions to the proposed taxonomy rules from the ranks of the Greens have been much harsher.

Green environment minister Steffi Lemke, for instance, told the regional newspaper Rheinische Post that nuclear energy was “far from sustainable and a high-risk technology”. She added that the taxonomy was at risk of “blocking actually sustainable investments in favour of dangerous nuclear power”. She called for a “swift reaction” to the Commission’s proposal.

(Julia Dahm I

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