Last week it was President Macron who was rowing back on green measures. In a speech he asserted that Europe has, for now, gone far enough – if it introduces any more regulations without the rest of the world following suit then it will put investment at risk and harm the economy. This week, the European People’s Party – a centre right grouping which includes the German Christian Democrats, the party of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – seems to be joining in.
The party is reported to be considering withdrawing its support for the European Commission’s Green Deal. That is the set of proposals which includes, for example, an EU-wide target for eliminating net carbon emissions by 2050. Whilst 11 EU countries have already set themselves legally-binding targets to reach net zero by 2050 (or 2045 in the case of Germany and Sweden), if the Green Deal were to go there would be no obligation on the other member states to follow suit.
Germany now seems to be taking over from France as the seedbed of opposition towards zero carbon policies, not least because it has more severe policies – and because its self-imposed, earlier target of reaching net zero by 2045 is increasingly looking out of kilter with reality. The country has been retreating from low carbon power as nuclear stations have been decommissioned and they, as well as Russian gas, are replaced with coal. Nearly a third of German electricity is now generated by coal power, compared with just over 1 per cent last year in Britain. As in Britain, the Germany government is basing its net zero strategy heavily on replacing fossil fuel central heating with heat pumps.
Pushback from Germany is already evident in the EU’s decision to water down its plan to outlaw internal combustion engines in cars by 2035 – they will now be allowed so long as they can be powered by synthetic fuels manufactured from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Then, last week a new party, ‘Burger in Wut’ (Citizens in Anger or BiW) took 9.6 per cent of the vote in state elections in Bremen. As with the Dutch Farmers-Citizen’s Movement (BoerburgerBeweging, or BBB) which came top of the country’s regional elections in March in protest at the government’s efforts to close down farms in order to meet nitrate targets, it was the speed of BiW’s rise which caught many unawares.