Over in Germany, politics is going nuclear. This year the coalition government led by centre-right Christian Democrat (CDU) Chancellor Merkel, in partnership with the right-wing FDP, is facing likely defeat in series of state elections. The government’s unpopularity is driven by several factors, including fallout from Wikileaks that showed senior FDP figures sharing sensitive information with the US government.
But climate and energy policy is also in the mix. The government had been planning to extend the life of Germany’s ageing nuclear power stations, in order to avoid the need either to build more coal, or to massively expand expensive renewables. This policy has been very unpopular with a section of the greener-than-elsewhere German public, and support for the Green Party is now reaching record levels (above 20%), to the point where they could be the senior party in a coalition with the social democrats.
Then came the earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima crisis in Japan, and Merkel immediately reviewed the nuclear phase out and has now called for a “measured exit” from nuclear power, pledging instead “to reach the age of renewable energy as soon as possible”.
The volte-face is clearly driven by electoral calculation as much as anything else, although I’m not sure how many people will switch from green to CDU as a result. But the interesting thing to watch now is how sustainable this radical and costly policy will be now (although of course the nuclear route would also have been expensive). There’s a possibility she can make it work – Germany has one of, if not the greenest electorate in the world. But there will be opposition – Merkel was heckled as she made her announcement in the Bundestag yesterday. Elsewhere in Europe Red-Green coalitions promoting radical policies have not done well. We are about to see how green Germany really is.