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Nuclear Power for the Winter: Germany’s Green Party Confronts Its Last Taboo

  • September 06, 2022

Parliamentary group leaders Britta Hasselmann and Katharina Dröge, who have so far removed all obstacles to the government, have been expressing their doubts about nuclear extensions at every opportunity. Party co-chair Omid Nouripour takes a similar view. And Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who unlike Habeck is very well networked within the party, has never publicly ruled out the limited extension of operations, but she has sharply criticized any suggestion that Germany reopen nuclear plants in the longer term, calling it lunacy. At the very least, she has created the impression that she is less flexible on the issue than Habeck.

It is unlikely that they would incite an uprising in the parliamentary group against Habeck. The question is really: How passionately would they work to stop a movement in the party against Habeck if it were to materialize?

And how will they act when the decision is put to the vote at the party conference in October, where Habeck could possibly be pitted against Trittin?

Those waiting in the Bundestag on this late summer afternoon are provided with an inkling as the heat drives them out of the caucus room. Inside, the air conditioning is turned off, because the federal parliament is trying to save energy. And there are no drinks on the tables this time. The parliamentarians break into a sweat and rush outside to get a drink or some air.

It also provides the opportunity to ask them how they view the situation. And to watch them talk to each other. The longer the meeting lasts, the more relaxed they seem.

Members Seem Caught off Guard

There is plenty of criticism, to be sure. But Habeck has once again caught everyone off guard with this previously undiscussed variant. The deputies had clear positions on limited continued operations, on a lifetime extension. They had no positions on the idea of keeping two nuclear power plants on standby.

Much is still unclear, especially whether Habeck is tricking his own people, who were determined not to have limited operations of the nuclear plants extended. Or those political opponents who wanted to push it through at all costs.

For the moment, that doesn’t seem so important politically. The leadership of the parliamentary group is signaling support, and similar signals can be heard from the parliamentary group’s executive committee and the government cabinet. Even members of parliament who were previously uncertain say they can go along with it.

At first, the party seemed to be facing the agonizing choice of being seen as incapable of governing at the federal level or betraying its oldest principle. But another view has crystallized: Namely that the core identity of the party is perhaps no longer unmoving adherence to specific policy issues (anti-nuclear or environmental protection, for example), but a method of conducting politics – the recognition of reality and the attempt to shape it according to specific principles. This attitude seems to have prevailed yet again.

Nonetheless, the topic is likely to dominate the Green Party’s annual conference in Bonn in mid-October. The Green Party executive board already has three motions on the table to reaffirm the phaseout of atomic energy in Germany. They bear titles such as “Nuclear Power – No Thanks!” and “Sticking to the Nuclear Phase-Out – No Lifetime Extension and No Limited Operations.”

Who knows if anything will then flare up in the party. However, any insurgency is not expected to be incited by leading Greens.

Thus, on this evening, it looks as if the bitterest conflict over the future of nuclear power is breaking out not within the Green Party, but instead within the already often discordant governing coalition.

On Monday, the FDP’s executive committee approved a paper calling for the temporary continued operation of Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants beyond Dec. 31. Regardless of the results of the stress test. And of Habeck’s plan.

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