Time for Angela Merkel to fill the climate leadership vacuum?

Current Chancellor should win this weekend’s election, but doubts hang over policy direction of any new coalition

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats are unlikely to secure enough votes for an absolute majority (Pic: Glynn Lowe Photoworks/Flickr)

By Rosalind Cook and Luca Bergamaschi

This Sunday Germany goes to the polls and Angela Merkel is expected to be re-elected for another term.

If this happens, the energy and climate world will be watching her next moves carefully. Merkel has the power to shape the EU agenda, activate allies and pacify the opposition.

Her influence could help renew EU leadership and set an ambitious EU climate and energy package, the EU’s strongest tool in shaping global ambition to control climate risk.

Domestically, fixing the Energiewende, could demonstrate how affordable energy transition is achievable provided the right elements are in place.

Deal broker

Merkel’s last term has shown that Germany is central to any EU deal, they are always on the winning team.

Europe knows that when Merkel does lead, it often galvanises support across the EU.

Take Germany’s leadership in agreeing the 2020 EU climate and energy package in 2009, for example.

It demonstrated how the right set of policies and incentives could kick-start the transition to a low carbon economy by developing new industries and services, shaping investment decisions, and transforming consumers’ behaviour.

Conversely, Germany’s influence can also block key initiatives. Merkel stopped a compromise deal to enforce stricter rules on carbon dioxide emissions for all new cars in June.

She had been warned by her former colleague Matthias Wissmann, now chief lobbyist for the German car industry, that the new directive would regulate the German premium car industry to death.

If Germany is reluctant to support action at EU level, crucial discussions can lose momentum.

Earlier this year, Germany remained undecided and internally divided as Europe proposed to fix the EU Emissions Trading Scheme with a back-loading proposal.

It took a long time to get the European Parliament to agree the proposal and Merkel’s decision not to instruct her party ahead of the first vote in impacted on this.

It’s not just big country power that Germany has in the EU. Germany has somewhat underestimated influence, especially with Eastern Europe.

Its bilateral ties with Poland, Hungary, Greece and others have been important for bringing neutral member states on board and help secure a deal.

Germany could be the key to working with Poland – currently the biggest blocker on ambitious EU climate targets over fears for its coal production.

Leadership vacuum  

The world is in the run up to trying to secure an international deal on climate change by 2015. To set the pace, strong leadership will be needed to bring ambition and negotiate through the diplomatic minefield of equity, economic and trade concerns.

We don’t have that yet. Much has been said about the EU as the climate leader and in the last decade that was certainly true. But it’s clear now that the EU is losing momentum, feeling locked in to system of under delivering market mechanisms and being quickly outpaced by clean energy developments in China.

However, the EU remains a key player. No other country group can or wants to lead. With the crucial 2015 UN Conference of the Parties in Paris, the EU has the opportunity to shape the global deal. Germany will have a key role to play in achieving this.

Merkel’s recently established Petersburg Climate Dialogue has been a good first step calling for an international climate deal by 2015.

Wish list

So what would be on our wish list if Angela Merkel is re-elected?

Global responsibility: Obama has publicly asked Germany to play a greater role in foreign affairs. He was talking about Syria, imagining the assistance Germany could have offered in brokering relations between Russia and the US. But the point applies to climate change too.

Germany could, for example, have much greater cooperation with key players such as China to help them deliver their climate and energy goals by establishing a strategic partnership on low carbon goods and building markets on low carbon infrastructure.

There could be other measures too, like a dialogue on best practice in the area of low carbon and sustainable urban development.

Support for ambitious 2030 climate and energy package: This will restore confidence that a large scale low carbon transformation is possible and feasible.

Germany can thereby establish a leadership role for the EU on the world stage.

And it can make a convincing offer to all EU countries that a strong decarbonisation plan will increase economic activity and secure a stable climate-friendly future required to preserve prosperity for Europe and globally.

This is key to raise public awareness across all Europe and overcome the political and economic uncertainties of recent years.

An ambitious climate policy and certainty for Europe’s manufacturers and energy companies have to go hand in hand. Mrs. Merkel, you can ensure that this happens.

Fix the Energiewende: The ‘Energy Transition’ is a massive project with ambitious goals. It if works it will have enormous spill over effects for the rest of Europe.

The German public needs to be able to trust that it will work and result in a fair price both for industry and consumers, including the poorest.

Delivering this will require a stronger focus on building efficiency and demand side options which protect the whole economy against rising fossil fuel prices.

It will also require progress on transmission and better interconnection with neighbouring countries.

Finally there also needs to be stronger coordination with the regional “Länder” and Europe in order to ensure public acceptance and foster cooperation.

That means having ambitious climate and energy policies at all levels – regional, national and EU to leverage its impact.

Rosalind Cook is a Policy Advisor working on EU climate and energy issues in the E3G Brussels office. Luca Bergamaschi is a Researcher working on German and EU energy policy in the E3G Berlin office.

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