Germany's beleaguered heating bill hit by embarrassing vote delay

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Germany's beleaguered heating bill hit by embarrassing vote delay
A woman turns up the thermostat on the radiator at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

The constitutional court in Karlsruhe struck another blow to Germany's fiercely debated Heating Bill on Wednesday evening as it delayed a key vote on the climate reform plans.


The ruling centre-left-led alliance had to postpone the parliamentary vote on new heating regulations until September after the country's top court ruled the government had failed to give lawmakers sufficient time to read the fine print.

Explaining its decision to stop the vote, the court said that the government had "possibly" violated MP's right of participation by rushing the bill through parliament ahead of summer. 

The left-leaning daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung welcomed the reversal, calling it a "long overdue humiliation for the coalition" for attempting "to ambush parliament with their last-minute bill".

The coalition "deserves nothing less", said the conservative newspaper Welt while the business daily Handelsblatt said the 11th-hour decision "should go down in legal history".

After the bill was finalised in cabinet last week, the second and third reading of the bill had been scheduled to take place in the German Bundestag on Friday, ahead of the summer recess. It had been expected to pass with support from traffic-light coalition MPs, paving the way for the legislation to be implemented in 2024.

In an emergency application for an injunction, however, CDU politician Thomas Heilmann had argued that the vote should be prevented if MPs were not given at least 14 days to assess the bill beforehand.

Heilmann said there were "massive deficiencies" in the bill and complained of an "inadmissible shortening of the deadline" which made it impossible for him, as a member of parliament, to examine the bill.

The emergency motions was not directed against the "substantial objectives of the bill", he said, but rather against the "unconstitutional" and "flawed" parliamentary procedure.

His complaint was upheld in a 5-2 vote in the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, with the judges arguing that they were aiming to avoid an "irreversible violation" of MPs' rights by postponing Friday's vote.

READ ALSO: What homeowners in Germany need to know about the new heating bill

'Heavy defeat'

The temporary injunction from Germany's highest court is the latest in a series of setbacks for the government's Building Energy Act, otherwise known as the Heating Bill.

For months, the government has been fighting internally over the details of the legislation, with a last-minute compromise finally reached at the end of June - just nine days before the scheduled Bundestag vote.


Speaking to news agency DPA, CDU leader Friedrich Merz described the court's decision as a "heavy defeat for Olaf Scholz's federal government".

"The federal government's unspeakable dealings with parliament and the public has now been halted," he said.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz

CDU leader Friedrich Merz speaks at the CSU party conference in Augsburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Meanwhile, FDP deputy leader Wolfgang Kubicki FDP said the delay was a "well-deserved reward for the Greens, who have put inexplicable pressure on this procedure".

However, a spokesperson for the Greens told Die Zeit that the FDP had been responsible with the last-minute chaos surrounding the bill.

The FDP had forced negotiations on the bill to take place before the first reading, they argued, meaning that the government had been forced to bring partially out of date legislation to the Bundestag.

But they pointed out that there had been a full four weeks of discussion of the bill, adding that MPs had been given details of amendments ahead of key meetings, often at short-notice.

READ ALSO: German government to subsidise up to €30,000 of heating revamp costs

Heating Bill

Spearheaded by the Green Party and Economics Minister Robert Habeck, the Heating Bill aims to transition away from oil- and gas-powered heating systems entirely by 2045 as part of the fight against climate change.

From the start of next year, developers and home-owners will be banned from installing most fossil-fuel run heating systems in new-builds located in so-called "new-build areas".

Meanwhile, local governments in municipalities and large cities will have until 2028 and 2026, respectively, to present a communal heating plan.

New-build flats in Hambur

New-build flats in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Bockwoldt

At this point, home owners in new-build and existing properties will be required to exchange their heating systems powered by a minimum of 65 percent renewable energy in the event that their current oil or gas heating system breaks down and cannot be repaired. 

In the most recent version of the legislation, a number of changes were made, including extending deadlines for the majority of homeowners and removing a carve-out for people over the age of 80.

READ ALSO: German government scraps exemption for over-80s in controversial heating law


Following a crisis meeting of the SPD, Greens and FDP on Thursday, the coalition parties said they "respected" the decision of the court.

Rather than call a special legislative session during the summer recess, they opted to postpone the vote by two months.

With the new time-frame in place, it is unclear if the government can still implement the new heating act at the start of 2024 as planned.


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