Necessity is the mother of invention. The Greens are experiencing that these days. Whether it’s coal, LNG or even nuclear power: you have to slowly let go of old ideas and are currently experiencing that government can also be “crap”.
One cannot say that the Greens are inflexible on energy issues. Reactivation of decommissioned coal-fired power plants? No problem. Greater use of lignite-fired power plants? Why not! LPG obtained by fracking from the USA? Yes please, but quickly! Gas deals with the dictatorially ruled Qatar? No problem!
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Necessity is the mother of invention. Because of the energy shortages triggered by Putin’s war in Ukraine, the Greens hold their old principles high enough that they can slip comfortably under them. That’s called realpolitik. Only when it comes to nuclear power are the Greens apparently unwilling to compromise – at least not yet.
Your co-chairman Ricarda Lang recently hinted that the ongoing power supply stress test could possibly lead to a rethink. The three reactors that are still running could perhaps supply electricity beyond December 31st. After all, their performance was enough for ten million people. Lang received support from Boris Palmer, the green mayor of Tübingen who always argued more pragmatically than ideologically.
Britta Haßelmann, co-chair of the parliamentary group, strongly objected. She called it “absolutely absurd” to link a speed limit on the motorway with an extension of the service life, as the CDU politicians Jens Spahn and Andreas Jung had shown as a possibility. A position paper is now also circulating among the Greens that classifies nuclear power as a “security risk in every respect”. Hasselmann also condemns this “high-risk technology”.
Speaking of risk: Such statements make it clear what political risks Robert Habeck could incur. The Economics and Climate Minister has so far categorically rejected an extension of the term. But quite a few in the party fear that he could suddenly change his stance in the same way he has already done with regard to coal and fracking gas.
But with nuclear power, as the Greens prefer to call nuclear energy, a change of course would be much more serious. He touched the DNA of the party. When the Greens were founded as an “anti-party party” more than four decades ago, they committed themselves to four basic principles: ecological, social, grassroots democracy and non-violent.
There isn’t much left of that. The allegedly “anti-social” Hartz 4 laws were passed by the Red-Green Party, as were the Bundeswehr’s first foreign missions. During the Ukraine war, Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock were so committed to arms deliveries to Kyiv that the former Green Party veteran Otto Schily, who had been with the SPD since 1989, vilified them as bellicoses, as people who downright glorified the war.
Nothing has remained of the claim that the direction of the party should always be determined in a grassroots-democratic manner, i.e. directly by the members. The anti-party party of yore has long since had a delegate system like its “established” competitors. And never before has an opposition party decided the question of the chancellor candidacy so condescendingly as in the case of Baerbock – namely by it and its co-chairman Habeck alone.
It’s easy to understand why there’s rumblings about nuclear power in the party. What would remain of the lofty claims of the eco-party if they reversed the nuclear phase-out that they were so vehemently pushing? Even if it were only a matter of a few months – for many Greens this is about the principle. The principle then helps: party first, country second.
The eco-party finds itself in a difficult position. Even with coal and fracking gas, they have to learn that “Fridays for Future” and other climate activists criticize them sharply. It would probably be a nightmare for the eco-party if, of all people, those in favor of a different energy and climate policy took to the streets against them.
The Greens are currently experiencing that governing can also be “crap”, namely when the compulsion of the factual cannot be reconciled with one’s own ideas of an ideal world. For the Greens, the question of extending the term is therefore also a question of their own identity.
Intra-party struggles over the “soul of the party” are not yet reflected in opinion polls to the detriment of the Greens. On the contrary: Baerbock and Habeck make a good impression in the government – well supported by many media. It also helps the Greens that the other parties cannot shine in energy policy either. In twelve years of the grand coalition, the CDU/CSU and SPD have not brought about any significant energy transition and together they have negligently increased their dependence on Russian energy imports. Of course, the Greens are not as innocent as they like to pretend. Nord Stream 1 was a project of the Schröder/Fischer government, i.e. a red-green one.
The CDU/CSU and the FDP have to be accused of having decided in 2011 to phase out nuclear power completely hastily for short-sighted, tactical reasons. The supply gap was compensated by even higher gas imports. The “Climate Chancellor” Angela Merkel – together with her Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) – immediately followed up with the phase-out of coal. No other country has dared such a risky maneuver. That is why only a few other countries are as dependent on Russian energy imports as Germany.
No one can know how and to what extent Putin will turn on the gas tap. It is quite possible that in the autumn and winter he will test the extent to which the population is willing to save energy, until they loudly demand more gas and less consideration for Kyiv from the traffic light government. As has now become known, Baerbock had warned the Canadian government that there was a risk of “popular uprisings” if the flow of gas came to a standstill because the gas turbine had not been delivered to Russia. According to this logic, “popular uprisings” would also be conceivable if energy became scarce because electricity from nuclear power plants was dispensed with for ideological reasons. Then at the latest comes the litmus test for the Greens: principles or pragmatism? First the party or first the country?