Sigmar Gabriel, minister for the environment and former prime minister of lower Saxony, welcomed the second ‘Konjunkturpaket’ (stimulus package), as a chance for both job creation and the environment. Public investment would be subject to environmental guidelines, while changing car taxation to a CO² basis and paying car owners to get rid of old cars (or, rather, for buying new ones), would be a big step towards a more environmentally friendly fleet of cars. Two days after saying this (and after the package was passed), his ministry published a report showing that German companies were holding a large sharge of business in fast-growing environmental technology markets, and had already created 1,8 million ‘Umweltjobs’ (green jobs) in Germany.
Yet, while the growth of companies and jobs in green technologies is certainly encouraging, with regards to the stimulus package’s environmental impact, the reactions of commentators and interested parties was telling. The automotive and construction industries were positive to enthusiastic about the car tax holiday and the bonus to buy new cars. Environmenalists were not. A newspaper commentary reminded readers that Angela Merkel, in 1995 still as minister for the environment, had strongly opposed the idea of a bonus to buyers of new cars, and called the measure ‘ready for the scrap heap’. DHU and VCD, a environmental NGO and a left-leaning motring association, pointed out that most emissions are created when a car is manufactured, and that the bonus only creates an incentive when the value of an old car is below 2500€, this mainly being the case for cars which (because they are small) don’t emit most emissions anyway. Worse, they provide a model calculation showing that under the new car tax proposals (even though they will be based on CO² emissions), the most polluting cars will actually pay a lot less than before.
Those arguing that the measures aimed at the car industry are in fact only a small part of the stimulus package are right, but there is scant evidence of environmental measures elsewhere in it. While spending on infrastructure (such as modernising schools) will a positive impact on energy efficiency, this is accidental rather than reflecting conscious design. The same holds true for much of the package. Even if the car stimuli have (which seems doubtful) a positive environmental impact, they are designed to shore up manufacturing jobs. And the draught of measures stimulating those green industries that have already created 1,8 million jobs in Germany is disappointing, but also suggests that in a time of crisis, most German politics are scared to believe their own rhetoric.