Germany 2009: Elections, Risks and Opportunities

It is too early to predict how German politics and the environment will ‘get on’ in 2009. Yet, this year will be an important crossroads in showing whether Germany will remain a leader in dealing with environmental issues, including climate change, or not. With a number of state elections, as well as a national, and a European one, election campaigning will have a defining influence on the politicians and policies governing Germany in the coming years, yet so far the signs are not promising.

For the time being, the defining issue in German politics is the second economic stimulus package, agreed upon in principle, and to be passed by the coalition government soon. CDU and SPD have outlined their plans for what it should look like, and from an environmental point of view, it seems likely to disappoint.

It seems likely the emphasis will be on broad-ranging tax-cuts, while government investment will be focused on infrastructure, yet likely to encompass road construction as well as investment in energy savings. The SPD, specifically, suggests using part of a suggested state fund to invest in energy savings in public buildings, as well as a more efficient and environmentally friendly energy grid. Controversially, they also want to encourage consumers to buy more environmentally friendly cars through paying them a bonus for getting rid of their old car, a measure derided by Greenpeace and others as an expensive and environmentally harmful subsidy in disguise to the automotive industry.

The CDU puts a stronger focus than the SPD broad tax cuts, likely to not have a significant positive influence on the environment. Nevertheless, they propose to bring forward a change in car taxation, to make it dependant on a car’s CO² emissions, a measure with a potentially large positive impact on CO² emissions. Furthermore, they also want to invest in energy savings in buildings, yet have not yet specified how they would accomplish this. It’ll be worth watching the upcoming intra-coalition negotiations on the stimulus package to see what happens to these limited environmental measures.

Overall, in trying to stimulate consumption through broad tax cuts, the coming year might disappoint those who had been hoping for a more focused effort on renewable energy, CO² emissions reductions, and job creation in green industries.

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  1. Derek Pieper

    Any idea how Merkel will come out in all of this?

    Will she likely to be in a stronger or weaker political position vis-a-vis climate change in 2009?

    German leadership will certainly be one of the necessary pieces to ensure a strong EU position at the UN climate meetings in Copenhagen next December.

  2. Fabian Teichmueller

    I think for the time being the economic crises is important enough for voters that Merkel could comfortably win an election without addressing it. It would mean she lost a lot of credibility with those, both domestically and internationally (including me), that saw her as a progressive leader on the issue. Nevertheless, if other parties, such as the Greens cannot push the topic on the election agendas, and if voters believe that Germany cannot afford the leadership on climate change needed, it would mean that in future her incentives for pushing for a strong EU position on the topic would be lower. I hope she will reconsider, and looking at the US I think she might be stronger, both morally and in terms of votes, for it.

  3. Johannes Puckelwald

    It seems likely the emphasis will be on what fells like the more urgent problems for most people; financial crisis, economic slump and positioning in foreign affairs (especially for EU).
    But hey, the financial crisis showed us, that policy makers all over the world are willing to spend big if the problems are urgent enough. So lets wait and hope it won’t be too late than.
    The mood for actions on environmental issues in 2009 will be seen in Copenhagen I think.

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