Habeck wants to allow nuclear power plants until spring 2023, at best as a “operational reserve”. The Green Economics Minister will not get away with this. The liberals refuse to follow him. Now it depends on someone else.

The announcement by Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck that nuclear power would end in Germany in “mid-April” 2023 was premature. Because the Green Minister cannot decide that alone, he needs the approval of the entire traffic light coalition. And he doesn’t get it. The FDP denied him that.

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In the Bundestag debate on the budget of the Federal Ministry of Economics, without exception, all speakers from the FDP called for the three nuclear power plants, which were to be shut down at the end of the year, to remain in operation for a limited period of time. Habeck has planned two of these three, one in Bavaria and one in Baden-Württemberg, as “operational reserves” until April next year.

Not one liberal advocated Habeck’s course. On the contrary. The economic policy spokesman Reinhard Houben, for example, advocated that the three nuclear power plants should continue to run for “one and a half to three years” – with new fuel rods that should be procured for them.

After the debate, the FDP leadership announced that nobody in the Liberals expected the energy crisis to be over by next spring. Habeck’s problem, which he himself admitted when he presented the results of his “stress test” for the three reactors earlier this week: In order to keep these nuclear power plants in reserve, the Atomic Energy Act must be changed. According to the minister, this is not only possible with an ordinance issued by him. In plain language: Habeck can propose the so-called operational reserve, a highly controversial project, but he cannot enforce it.

An amendment to the Atomic Energy Act must therefore be passed in the Bundestag, which requires the majority of the parliamentarians who support the traffic light coalition in the Bundestag. However, this majority does not exist, as the Bundestag debate this Thursday made clear.

This was not so obvious because attention was focused on Habeck’s appearance after a series of serious allegations, including calls to resign from his post. The minister spoke faster than usual, looked more serious than usual, and propped himself up with a warning index finger, which he otherwise tries to avoid. He also attacked the Union for allegedly doing nothing on energy policy in 16 years of government. Motto: In personal distress, attack is the best defense.

Left-wing politician Sahra Wagenknecht claimed another part of the attention. With her usual eloquence, she built up a derivation that will be heard often at demonstrations of the left (and right) this autumn and winter. Their core argument is that not using Russian gas costs German prosperity, which is created by expensive fracking gas in the USA. What the federal government is doing is based on Donald Trump’s motto: “Make America great again.”

The Greens had to put up with Wagenknecht being called Vladimir Putin’s most important propagandist in Germany and being put in line with the AfD. However, Wagenknecht knows this from almost every Bundestag debate. She knows that she may be on the fringes in the Bundestag – things may look different on Germany’s streets.

In any case: Wagenknecht’s brilliant performance distracted attention from the fact that the traffic light coalition has now lost its majority to the Union, FDP, AfD and Left Party on the nuclear issue in Parliament. The representatives of the liberals spoke moderately in tone, but uncompromisingly supported the continued operation of the three reactors.

And even if this politically “impossible” parliamentary majority does not result in a voting majority (which is exactly what the AfD will try to do), this will not help the traffic light any further. In order to change the Atomic Energy Act in Habeck’s sense, she needs a positive voting majority. And she hasn’t.

Now that has consequences. If a governing coalition no longer has a majority in the Bundestag on a fundamental issue, the Federal Chancellor is up for debate – a king without a country, so to speak. But Olaf Scholz will do everything to prevent his fall over the running time question.

What is interesting is his pragmatic, non-ideological approach to the subject – recently the chancellor had shown himself open to extending the lifetime of nuclear power plants. Scholz does not carry Habeck’s burden of coming from a party that was founded as an anti-nuclear movement.

According to coalition circles, the problem that Habeck led the coalition to will not be solved without a government nuclear summit. Scholz, Habeck and FDP leader Christian Lindner will have to find a compromise together so that the government is not in danger.

There is already a blueprint for how something like this can work, even a current one. For a long time it looked as if Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) would not be able to agree on a new infection protection law with the liberals – beware of freedom. Until Lauterbach and the liberal Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann, despite all the differences, found a compromise – with which they were able to avert a coalition crisis over the Corona policy.

The government will now try to do the same in the nuclear dispute, according to the coalition. Whereby the Federal Chancellor is unlikely to agree to the line of his Green Economics Minister, which cannot be conveyed to the public.

Habeck recently got on the defensive, because of his controversial gas levy, because the energy company Preußen-Elektra openly contradicted him and because for the first time his much-vaunted rhetorical skills failed him. The minister gave the impression on television that Germany’s bakers were indifferent to him. In the end, Habeck will hardly be able to avoid giving in. For him personally, this would ultimately have a decisive advantage:

He could “sell” the continued use of the “high-risk technology” atom to his Greens, pointing out the necessary coalition discipline. Then it would not be Habeck “buckling” in front of the FDP, but another act in the play that Habeck prefers to present: staging politics with gestures of humility as the art of the possible. After the arms deliveries to the war zone Ukraine, the Greens once again turned out to be the ones who follow reality. And not their ideology.

The price that the Greens would have to pay is actually small. Angela Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear power after Fukushima in 2011 is not even questioned by Friedrich Merz.