Nuclear power festers political debate in Germany | International

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at Wednesday's debate on Germany's budgets.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at Wednesday’s debate on Germany’s budgets.Markus Schreiber (AP)

In reality, the debate was about next year’s budgets, but Germany, judging by the duel between the chancellor and the leader of the opposition in the Bundestag on Wednesday, has more important things to worry about. These days the energy crisis monopolizes everything. The scrutiny of the coalition government’s management is maximum, and the leader of the conservatives, Friedrich Merz, hardens his speech every day trying to corner Olaf Scholz, who is languishing in the polls. In an unusually acrimonious exchange, the politicians blamed each other for the energy crisis and highlighted the huge gap that the role of nuclear power plants in Germany is causing.

“Abandon this madness while we still have time!” Merz bellowed, who has been demanding the Executive for days to extend the life of the last three German reactors, which according to the plans drawn up in 2011 by Angela Merkel should be disconnected from the network this 31 from December. On Monday, the Minister of Economy and Climate, the green Robert Habeck, announced that two of the three plants will remain “in reserve” until April to be used only if necessary during the winter. Merz, grown up because the polls have smiled on him lately, called it “nonsense.” “In other European countries they wonder if the Germans are crazy closing three nuclear reactors in this situation,” he assured, causing applause from his bench.

Far from losing heart, the usually circumspect Scholz changed his usual whispering and monotonous tone of voice for a firm speech that at times used shouts, gesticulations of arms and blows on the lectern. “Don’t underestimate our country! Do not underestimate the citizens of this country!” he snapped at the CDU leader. “In difficult times, our country outdoes itself. We have a good tradition of shaking hands when the going gets tough,” he told her, appealing for unity and calling for a responsible opposition to recognize “the impressive achievement” of reducing dependence on Russian gas in record time.

“Germany is in a good position to overcome this crisis,” assured the chancellor, who took the opportunity to list the measures put in place by his government since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and which have allowed reserves to currently be at 86%. . Among them, the diversification of supply (increasing flows with Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium), the express approval of five regasification plants to receive liquefied natural gas by ship —the first two will start operating this winter— and the increased use of Coal. The data shows that in January Germany imported 55% of its gas from Russia; now it is less than 9%. Scholz proudly assured that he began preparing the country for the crisis in December, as soon as he took office: “Thanks to that today we can face this winter with courage and courage.”

winter of uncertainty

Despite Scholz’s reassuring words, Germany is facing a winter of great uncertainty, with supply through the Nord Stream gas pipeline completely cut off for a few days and widespread fear of industry production stoppages and restrictions. In this climate, the return to nuclear energy, something unthinkable at the beginning of the year, polarizes citizens and the political class. The far-right AfD not only asks to prolong the use of the last three reactors, but also to reopen others that have already been closed and even build new ones. The formation is encouraging street protests against the rise in the cost of living, especially energy, and the government’s management. His spokeswoman, Alice Weidel, accused Scholz of being a “captain of the titanica” that ignores the icebergs and is impoverishing the population.

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The fear of recession grows day by day. The Ifo Institute warned this Wednesday that inflation (7.9% in August) will go higher. Almost all companies in the food sector plan to raise their prices, says their report, which warns that energy costs will rise dramatically. Until now, energy providers “have only passed on a small part of the costs to their customers”, recalled researcher Timo Wollmershäuser. The director of Ifo, Clemens Fuest, assured that the German economy “is heading for stagflation (stagnant growth with high inflation) and, in the worst case, for recession”, in a meeting with foreign correspondents.

In the tense parliamentary debate, the chancellor returned to using, in English, one of the phrases that he has lately used as a motto: “You will never walk alone.” Liverpool’s famous football anthem (You’ll never walk alone) serves Scholz to convey the idea that his government is not going to leave anyone behind in the crisis. Calmer after the initial fire, he listed the social measures of his coalition: increase in the beneficiaries of the housing subsidy, increase in child support, increase in the minimum wage. “We have done a lot to alleviate the urgent problems of citizens,” he claimed in the debate.

In addition to defending himself vehemently, the chancellor also attacked the leader of the Christian Democrats. He accused them of being “asleep” when it comes to the energy transition. “You were unable to advance in the expansion of renewable energies. They opposed each new wind turbine”, criticized Scholz, to the fuss of Merz’s fellow seats. The CDU, according to the account of the chancellor, who was part of Angela Merkel’s last grand coalition executive as deputy chancellor, was totally opposed to the construction of regasification plants in the North Sea, something that he wanted to “promote”.

If both politicians agreed on something, it was on the need for cohesion. Merz assured that the AfD must not be allowed to divide the country. Scholz, looking at him but without naming him, sent him a similar message: “Anyone who talks about division endangers peace in our country.”

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