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In Germany, the realism of the Greens in the face of the energy crisis strengthens their political weight

The leading economy in the euro zone, Germany is now seen as a bad student as it has relied on energy dependence on Russia. For several months, members of the German government have been multiplying alarmist declarations as if to prepare the population for a tense winter. We are in a gas crisis. The path the country is about to take is difficult »had thus alerted the government last June, implying the possibility of shortages and rationing.

To avoid such a scenario, Germany is considering all the solutions, from the shorter and colder shower to the lighting of traffic lights and the temperature of offices. But beyond the gestures of energy sobriety, it is the need to find long-term solutions that concerns the ruling coalition, even if it means contradicting the objectives, in particular the climate, set by the country.

Return of nuclear and coal

In 2011, the year of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the former Chancellor, Angela Merkel, decreed the exit from nuclear power in her country, building for the last ten years on the objective of 2022. A commitment swept away in recent months by the declarations of the new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. On Wednesday, he considered the possibility of extending the operating life of the last three plants in operation. Even among the Greens, party of the current Minister of Economy and Climate Protection, Robert Habeck, this possibility has gained ground.

Witness the latter’s comments in June, admitting that the government was preparing to make “very difficult choices of society”. “We are already in a situation in which Germany has never found itself. And if Russian gas deliveries remain as low as they are now, we are heading straight for gas shortages”he explained. Nuclear is really a taboo in Germany. There was a consensus within the political class as well as the population to get out of nuclear power and find other sources of electricity. So when the government announced that they were going to reopen plants or extend existing ones it was badly received », explains Paul Maurice, researcher at the study committee for Franco-German relations (Cerfa) at the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri).

Especially since Germany fought on a European scale to ensure that nuclear energy is not included in the green taxonomy. The fact of defending a firm position within the European Union and internationally, then adopting a different strategy within one’s own country somewhat discredits one’s word »he adds.

The same goes for coal, which the country planned to do without in 2030, according to the commitment made by the three parties within the coalition: the Greens, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Liberals. Last March, a plan to reduce the country’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels provided that, “in this context, the dismantling of coal-fired power plants could be suspended until further notice after an analysis” led by the sector regulator.

Three months later, the government said it would use so-called coal-fired power stations “reserve”, currently only used as a last resort, to guarantee the country’s energy security. The question of coal was however crucial for the Greens who made it a condition for their entry into the coalition. Not to mention the announcement last March of the construction of two liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, the first of which is located at the mouth of the Elbe. In addition, Robert Habeck went, at the same time, to Qatar, one of the three largest exporters of LNG.

Gas crisis: the great comeback of coal in Europe

Pragmatism VS ecology

However, this change of course has not tarnished the popularity of the Minister of Economy and Climate Protection. Despite these announcements and visits, Robert Habeck, and through him the Green Party, said to the Germans: “We have our convictions but we are also pragmatic and we are there to protect the population. So we have to find solutions”. Robert Habeck also insists a lot on the double denomination of his ministerial portfolio so that we do not forget that he is also Minister of the Economy », analyzes Jacques-Pierre Gougeon, university professor specializing in Germany and director of research at the Institute of International Relations and Strategies (Iris).

According to him, the Greens have a real power in this government because they occupy two strategic positions: that of the vice-chancellor but also of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and both are very popular with the Germans ». The thing is, the Greens are increasingly seen as a big party. Even if they were only 15% in the last federal election, it is very likely that they will exceed 20% in the next one. They will therefore influence the ideas of other parties and determine much of the direction of Germany to come. »confirms Paul Maurice.

Especially since, for the German population, the country’s dependence on Russian energy is attributable to previous governments which did not take the necessary steps to diversify supplies. Starting with the other two parties in the coalition, the SPD and the Liberals, who have both been in power for the past ten years, as well as the current Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. Although he remains very cautious in his positions, we begin to reproach him for his co-responsibility because he was a member of the previous government and he is criticized for the bad decisions taken at the time. »comments the researcher at Iris.

Alternatives in West Africa

Nevertheless, the Chancellor is also trying to quickly find alternatives to avoid an energy crisis. It is for this purpose that he traveled to Senegal at the end of May, with which Germany is conducting discussions ” intensive » to participate in projects around its gas resources. It makes sense » and he is in our common interest to make progress »assured Olaf Scholz when the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, said to himself ready (…) to work with a view to supplying the European market with LNG ». An optimism to qualify, according to Paul Maurice: Germany is turning a little more towards West Africa, but it encounters great competition there with Russia and China, but also France and the United States. »he remarks.

Even if Olaf Scholz seems discreet, he is showing reactivity for Germany and it is possible that, in a few months, the country will manage to get out of this situation. », he continues. But for the researcher, winter promises to be decisive, especially from the point of view of German households. We are still in summer, but in winter it can be very cold in the north of the country », he recalls, suggesting the possibility that shortages or restrictions will raise social questions among the population. Although the Germans are themselves finding alternatives to gas by rushing to electric heaters, these devices are much more polluting, just like the solutions presented for the moment by the coalition, and could disappoint the expectations of voters who have voted for a environmental program. Paul Maurice is also worried about the possibility that this situation favors a return of the far right to power when the traditional parties find themselves in a complex position ».