Update: Merkel ‘climate cabinet’ pledges to act fast

In a bid to convince voters it's willing and able to address the climate crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged a new climate strategy on Wednesday.

Update: Merkel 'climate cabinet' pledges to act fast
On early Wednesday morning, the environmental NGO Greenpeace constructed a sign reading "climate crisis" in front of the German parliament. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government Wednesday pledged a new climate strategy by September as it scrambles to tackle what has become Germany's hottest political issue.

Merkel's coalition took heavy losses in Sunday's European Parliament elections at the hands of the ascendant Greens in what was seen as an indictment of Berlin's plodding progress on tackling global warming.

Young voters in particular — energized by the Fridays for Future school strikes, anti-coal protests and a passionate campaign from leading YouTube stars — abandoned the mainstream CDU/CSU and SPD parties in droves.

Environmental groups demand that Germany fast-forward its phasing out of dirty coal, currently targeted for 2038, and better promote zero-emission cars that remain a rare sight on German roads.

Merkel, who acknowledged on CNN that “we have to give better answers” to the planetary challenge, met ministers of her “climate cabinet” Wednesday to discuss how Germany should meet its carbon reduction targets.

Afterwards, Merkel's office reaffirmed Germany's intention “to meet the 2030 climate targets to which it has committed itself internationally” – a 55- percent cut in emissions from 1990 levels.

“This means significant additional CO2 reductions year after year,” said her spokesman Steffen Seibert, stressing that Merkel's government “sees this as a key focus of its work”.

“The government will in September make the fundamental decisions on the laws and measures and the cabinet will adopt them by the end of the year,” he added.

SEE ALSO: 'Surfing the Zeitgeist': How the Greens won over Germany

In 2007, Merkel sits on stones in front of the Eqi Glacier in Greenland. Photo: DPA

'No further delays'

Since the election, criticism has been raining down from all sides — even from Friedrich Merz, a conservative former investment fund manager with designs on Merkel's job.

“After this European election, the CDU must ask itself why, after 14 years of having a 'climate chancellor', we are missing our climate targets, burdening households and companies with the highest electricity prices in Europe and at the same time losing strategic and cultural control over the issue,” he told news site Der Spiegel.

SEE ALSO: German electricity prices could rise by 20 percent due to coal withdrawal

The coalition's poll debacle and perceived loss of touch with young voters have again heightened tensions between the two parties who were forced into their unhappy marriage by poor poll results in 2017.

The new political turbulence has also added fresh urgency to the coalition's plodding progress on forging a complex new “climate law” before the end of the year.

A day after the ballot box drubbing, the SPD Environment Minister Svenja Schulze voiced her frustration about the CDU's foot-dragging on her climate bill.

She complained that Merkel's office had failed to respond to the proposed law since February and took the unusual step of instead sending the bill directly to other ministries.

“We need more commitment on climate protection,” she tweeted. “I cannot take responsibility for further delays.”

'Substitute religion' 

The CSU's Georg Nüßlein attacked Schulze for her “panic-driven manoeuvre” and charged that “the SPD is obviously losing its nerve, which is little wonder given its election results”.

Schulze's proposed Climate Protection Act would set binding targets in areas such as energy generation, industry, transport, housing, agriculture and waste management.

In the scheduled 90-minute “climate cabinet” meeting Wednesday, CDU Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, the CSU's Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer and others are expected to outline their plans for CO2 emission cuts.

Germany's declared goal for 2030 is a 55-percent reduction from 1990 levels.

And by mid-century, Germany would aim for a 95-percent cut under the new law, surpassing earlier pledges.

Where Germany fails and is punished at the EU level, the government would pass the penalties on to the ministries responsible. 

The CSU's Nüßlein has already attacked the bill as a blueprint for a communist-style “climate-planned economy”.

He also opposed SPD proposals for a CO2 tax that would discourage, for  example, petrol cars and oil heating.

The CDU's Joachim Pfeiffer meanwhile voiced scepticism about the new  enthusiasm for climate protection, charging that for many it had become a  “substitute religion”

By Frank Zeller

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.