German media roundup: Merkel’s nuclear U-turn

Nuclear disaster in Japan has caused Chancellor Merkel to do a sudden about-face and suspend the extension of the lifespans of Germany's atomic power plants. Newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Tuesday assess the implications.

German media roundup: Merkel's nuclear U-turn
Photo: DPA

Reports of explosions at Japanese nuclear reactors and dangerous radiation leaks pushed Angela Merkel into a sudden U-turn regarding nuclear energy on Monday.

Just last October, her centre-right coalition pushed through a controversial extension of Germany’s use of nuclear power, reversing a plan by the previous Social Democratic-Green government to phase out atomic energy by 2021.

But on Monday, Merkel announced she was suspending an agreement to delay the closing of the nation’s ageing nuclear power stations. The government on Tuesday said seven reactors would be shut down during the three-month moratorium while comprehensive safety inspections were carried out.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have long argued that an extension of nuclear power was essential to meeting the country’s emission targets to combat global warming. Merkel also said that though renewable energy production was her government’s long-term goal, the technology was not yet advanced enough to meet Germany’s energy needs.

But an overwhelming majority of Germans oppose nuclear power, and despite her panicked policy reversal, Merkel’s conservatives face a potential political backlash for their nuclear stance.

It couldn’t come at a worse time. On March 27, there is an election in the important state of Baden-Württemberg that could see the CDU lose power for the first time in nearly 60 years.

Now, observers say, Merkel must be fearing her own nuclear meltdown at the polls.

The leftist daily Tageszeitung said this latest move shows Merkel is more interested in extending the life of her government than the lives of nuclear plants.

“The coalition might win some time with this manoeuvre. An election defeat in (Baden-Württemberg) would be a disaster for the CDU and this moratorium is an attempt to lower the chances of that happening. But is it all just rhetoric? No, because the coalition is not going to be able to simply switch off the debate over nuclear power after three months. The situation in Japan has deeply affected the German public, far beyond just Green party circles. Even a majority of Christian Democrats were against extending the nuclear plants’ lifetimes. On Monday, Merkel’s nuclear policy simply crashed and burned, although some people are still in denial.”

Munich’s centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung said the debate over nuclear energy has now changed decisively and that the crisis in Japan will likely have real consequences in Germany – and that’s a good thing.

“If this is more than just a tactic to win some time before state elections, German will likely soon have seven fewer nuclear power plants than it does today – those plants whose construction are accident prone and whose thin outer shells provide no protection from terrorist attacks. The catastrophe in Fukushima will result in exactly the thing the government coalition circumvented last autumn, namely, requiring that nuclear plants be able to withstand air attacks. That’s the least the government should do to ensure nuclear safety, and it’s long overdue.”

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said that this development could spell the final end of Germany’s nuclear programme, the debate over which has been marked largely by ideological grandstanding and the demonization of political opponents.

“But Germany, unlike almost any other country, has the capability to responsibly handle radioactive materials due to both our highly sensitive public and well-functioning institutions. For example, when protests hit the Mülheim-Kärlich nuclear plant, which is in much less danger from earthquakes than any Japanese facility, the German courts did not hesitate to demand that new security measures be implemented. In China and many other countries where nuclear energy is being promoted, that is not the case. But now, Germany will no longer be a role model for them to emulate.”

The right-wing daily Die Welt described the challenge facing Angela Merkel as “historic,” comparing it to that faced by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

“Despite the pacifist voices in his own party and those of his coalition partner, the Greens, Schröder successfully advocated German participation in the military mission in Afghanistan. Angela Merkel might now go down in history as the nuclear-exit chancellor, despite herself. But does she have the will and the power to assume leadership when it comes to saying goodbye to nuclear power? We will only know that after the current moratorium expires and this year’s important state elections are history.”

The centrist Der Tagesspiegel from Berlin said the nuclear disaster in Japan has finally made the German government open its eyes.

“The government is backpedalling, terrified of the upcoming elections and caught up in grim reality. Now it can no longer deny what it has always disputed: nuclear power is a high-risk technology, which tolerates neither human failure nor natural disaster.”

The Local/kdj

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German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

With Russia's invasion in Ukraine exacerbating high energy and petrol prices, Germany is set to introduce a second relief package to limit the impact on consumers.

German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

The additional package of measures was announced by Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Sunday.

Speaking to DPA, Habeck said the wave of price increases throughout the energy sector were becoming increasingly difficult for households to bear.

“Extremely high heating costs, extremely high electricity prices, and extremely high fuel prices are putting a strain on households, and the lower the income, the more so,” he said. “The German government will therefore launch another relief package.”

The costs of heating and electricity have hit record highs in the past few months due to post-pandemic supply issues. 

This dramatic rise in prices has already prompted the government to introduce a range of measures to ease the burden on households, including abolishing the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) levy earlier than planned, offering grants to low-income households and increasing the commuter allowance. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s relief package against rising prices means for you

But since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine on February 24th, the attack has been driving up energy prices further, Habeck explained.

He added that fears of supply shortages and speculation on the market were currently making the situation worse. 

How will the package work?

When defining the new relief measures, the Economics Ministry will use three criteria, Habeck revealed. 

Firstly, the measures must span all areas of the energy market, including heating costs, electricity and mobility. 

Heating is the area where households are under the most pressure. The ministry estimates that the gas bill for an average family in an unrenovated one-family house will rise by about €2,000 this year. 

Secondly, the package should include measures to help save energy, such as reducing car emissions or replacing gas heating systems.

Thirdly, market-based incentives should be used to ensure that people who use less energy also have lower costs. 

“The government will now put together the entire package quickly and constructively in a working process,” said Habeck.

Fuel subsidy

The three-point plan outlined by the Green Party politician are not the only relief proposals being considered by the government.

According to reports in German daily Bild, Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FPD) is allegedly considering introducing a state fuel subsidy for car drivers.

The amount of the subsidy – which hasn’t yet been defined – would be deducted from a driver’s bill when paying at the petrol station. 

The operator of the petrol station would then have to submit the receipts to the tax authorities later in order to claim the money back. 

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, fuel prices have risen dramatically in Germany: diesel has gone up by around 66 cents per litre, while a litre of E10 has gone up by around 45 cents.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The everyday products getting more expensive in Germany

As well as support for consumers, the government is currently working on a credit assistance programme to assist German companies that have been hit hard by the EU sanctions against Russia.

As reported by Bild on Saturday, bridging aid is also being discussed for companies that can no longer manage the sharp rise in raw material prices.

In addition, an extension of the shorter working hours (Kurzarbeit) scheme beyond June 30th is allegedly being examined, as well as a further increase in the commuter allowance.