The barter that the right offers to the Greens in Germany: nuclear extension in exchange for speed limits on motorways | International
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The gas crisis, which has the German government on alert, has brought about a new debate on nuclear energy in Germany and the maximum speed on motorways. In the middle of the summer political recess and with Chancellor Olaf Scholz on vacation in Bavaria, the two Christian Democratic parties (CDU and CSU) have proposed an unprecedented political exchange: they would be willing to accept a speed limit on motorways – one of their historic red lines — in exchange for an extension of the useful life of nuclear power plants —something that cannot be renounced until now for Social Democrats and Greens—.
The proposal has sparked a strange political debate in the leading European economy and threatens to cause a crisis within the government coalition. The reason? Both Chancellor Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) and The Greens, led by Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck, oppose any delay in shutting down the three remaining nuclear power plants in Germany, which should close by the end of this year. The third leg of the Executive, the liberal FDP party, opposes the imposition of a speed limit, but has joined the conservative opposition in calling for the life of atomic reactors to be extended. The extension of these facilities would make it possible to reduce both the burning of coal —the most polluting fossil fuel— and gas —whose supply is far from guaranteed for winter.
Despite the rejection of greens and social democrats, nothing has been decided for now. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, the also green Annalena Baerbock, admitted on Saturday in an interview in the newspaper bild which does not rule out an extension for the three remaining nuclear power plants in Germany. “Now we are in an emergency situation in which we are examining everything again,” said the minister, who warned of the risks of a return to nuclear energy beyond 2022. “After all, in Germany we do not abandon nuclear energy because yes. In these difficult decision-making processes, it is always important to take each step based on the facts,” she said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection has acknowledged that the Government has commissioned energy providers to carry out a stress test for the electricity grid in order to determine if the energy supply could be guaranteed this winter, even if there is a total cut off of Russian gas. The final decision will come only when the results of this test are known, which may take several weeks.
The opposition leader and president of the CDU, Friedrich Merz, assured the ZDF channel that he believes that the parties of the government coalition will agree to take this step. “I anticipate that by the end of the year we will see how the useful life of nuclear power plants is extended,” Merz said.
For now, the liberals in the FDP have rejected the trade between putting speed limits on highways in exchange for extending the useful life of nuclear plants. His parliamentary spokesman, Christian Dürr, dropped that the exchange was out of place, but defended the nuclear extension. “The Government must do everything possible to close the impending gas gap. Increasing the lifetime of these plants could make a significant contribution, but the speed limit would not,” he stated.
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Two other leaders of the conservative formation have taken advantage of the proposal to take advantage of the cracks in energy policy in the tripartite government that governs Germany. “We need energy! Some colleagues from the SPD and the FDP also see it that way, but it is not possible because of the Greens”, slipped the president of the CDU, Friedrich Merz.
More forcefully, Alexander Dobrindt, parliamentary leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), mixed the green party with Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing them of putting Germany’s prosperity at risk. “Putin turns off gas and the Greens turn off nuclear power. This causes a blackout in winter,” he said.
Setting a general speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour on motorways has been the subject of bitter debate for years. This controversy has gained strength in recent years, after several polls pointed to a narrow majority of citizens who defend this cap. According to a calculation carried out by the Federal Environment Agency and released last April, this measure would reduce fuel consumption by 600 million liters per year and annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 1.5 millions of tons.
Until now, not only the FDP and the two Christian Democratic parties were in the front line against the speed limit: also Chancellor Scholz seemed to be in that group. But the war in Ukraine has changed the rules of the game.
Still without accepting the barter proposed by the CDU, the coalition Executive has begun to backtrack on its traditional nuclear policy, pointing out that the issue is not ideological but technical. And he has suggested a possible change of position on the closure of the three plants, hinting that he will analyze whether leaving those facilities in operation for longer could help boost energy security.
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