15 July 2009

Pay Attention to Germany

Some recent events in Germany are worth noting for how they might influence EU climate policies. First, the reemergence of debate over nuclear power, which is like to be a central factor in the next election:

The emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor in northern Germany has thrust worries about atomic safety back on to the political agenda ahead of a national election that will decide the fate of the country’s nuclear plants.

Roland Koch, a key ally of Angela Merkel, the chancellor, vowed on Monday that “there would be no change” to the Christian Democrats’ electoral pledge to extend the lifespan of reactors.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, foreign minister and the Social Democratic party’s candidate for chancellor, has used the incident to emphasise the SPD’s commitment to a phase-out of nuclear power.

“I really can’t comprehend why the CDU says nuclear power provides eco-energy for the 21st century and, as such, makes itself the mouthpiece of the nuclear lobby,” he said. The SPD lags behind the CDU, its coalition partner, by about 15 percentage points in polls.

Although the failure of a transformer at the 1,346Mw Krümmel nuclear facility on July 4 did not endanger the public, revelations that Vattenfall, the Swedish utility, failed to install a monitoring device or promptly inform its regulator have caused alarm.

The incident is a setback for the energy industry after a brief period when pro-nuclear arguments on prices and climate change had begun to carry weight in Germany.

Second, the German Constitutional Court has made it more difficult for EU institutions to legislate policies compelling binding commitments by member nations:
Germany’s constitutional court takes a clear stance on sovereignty. Ultimate authority always has to rest in a single place – and that is the member state for now. If you wanted to transfer sovereignty to the EU, you would have to dump your national constitution and adopt a European version in its place. As this is not going to happen, the court, in effect, ruled that all sovereignty in the EU is national. Power may be shared, but sovereignty may not.
If Germany decides not to go nuclear, then that makes decarbonization much more difficult. If decarbonization of the German economy becomes more difficult, it will become more difficult for the entire EU.