23rd Mar 2023


Caught between Macron and his coalition: Scholz and nuclear

  • Some of Olaf Scholz's Green colleagues are already accusing him of betrayal, after his trade-off with Emmanuel Macron (Photo: Council of the European Union)
Listen to article

Barely a month since France took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, and France and Germany are already in dispute over the highly-controversial EU proposal to grant nuclear energy and natural gas a green investment label under the EU taxonomy on sustainable finance rules.

The EU proposal was published on Wednesday (2 February) with only minor edits - despite the internal row it had sparked amongst several member states.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Germany has one of the world's strongest anti-nuclear movements - largely focussed on the issue of nuclear waste disposal (Photo: European Community, 2006)

The initial proposal itself had been quietly distributed to EU members on New Year's Eve – the day Germany closed half of its six nuclear power plants.

If the proposal now passes the EU's legislative procedures without getting blocked by the commission or the parliament (both unlikely scenarios), it will likely channel billions of euros into the construction of new nuclear power plants across the bloc.

While Germany has voiced its concerns over the viability of nuclear energy, only a handful of countries have joined this opposition, including Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Spain – of which Austria and Luxembourg declared they would be willing to take the EU to court over the matter.

The pro-nuclear block, on the other hand, includes France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

During the past weeks France has taken a strong stance in support of nuclear energy with president Emmanuel Macron labelling it as the "sovereign solution", while Germany has expressly rejected the integration of nuclear power into the green taxonomy.

However, this statement itself only came out after some German Greens accused chancellor Olaf Scholz of betraying their interests with his green label trade-off with Macron: namely, to achieve a green label for natural gas – on which Germany heavily relies – he surrendered to Macron's demand to grant the same label for nuclear energy.

Thus, Scholz's reaction to the criticism may simply be an attempt to showcase a unified front to the rest of Europe while his own traffic-light coalition is in the hot seat.

After their success in September's federal elections, German Greens secured their position as the second-largest party in the current coalition government – making them crucial for the future of the German coalition.

No compromise

And nuclear energy is one of the topics the Greens are not willing to compromise on.

The Greens, born out of the 1980s anti-nuclear protests, were quick to call out the EU over the new energy proposal with the German vice-chancellor and climate minister, Robert Habeck, accusing the EU of "greenwashing".

But not all coalition members agreed: the vice-chair of the neo-liberal Free Democrats, Wolfgang Kubicki, stated "you're not a good European if you only accept decisions that suit you".

Even without shaking up the ranks of the German coalition, the EU's green taxonomy may be the biggest controversy of Ursula von der Leyen's presidency of the Commission.

To add insult to injury, to phase out nuclear Germany will need to rely on Russian gas – which is at record high prices. With tensions escalating between the West and Russia over Ukraine, the German foreign minister, again from the Greens, Annalena Baerbock, will soon be in a tough spot.

Germany has been crucial in the construction of the German-Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 which Baerbock has openly criticised. Although the pipeline was only recently completed, last week Germany confirmed that it would not open if Russia invades Ukraine.

Ultimate irony

Thus, considering the possibly insecure nature of gas supply from Russia, Germany may have to rely on French nuclear energy.

With the EU's integrated energy system – which Macron is eager to expand – Germany could feasibly import nuclear power from France. But having one the most consistent anti-nuclear movements in the world, this would be an unpopular decision in Germany where nuclear energy is regarded as dangerous because of the radioactive waste.

Besides the so-called sovereignty, France's justification for nuclear power includes lower CO2-emissions, compared with gas. But Germany hopes to use gas as a bridge technology, moving away from more harmful energy sources such as coal and crude oil.

In particular, the German transport sector has been a sticking point, as the only industry failing to curb CO2 emissions since the 1990s.

Decarbonisation of the transport sector will be another trial for the German coalition and renewable biofuels could ease this transition.

A useful case study comes from southeast Asia, where Malaysia has ensured that its biofuel production adheres to stringent environmental regulations under the legally-binding MSPO palm-oil certification scheme.

The upcoming months will show if the German coalition resolves its differences over the EU taxonomy and how to decarbonise its polluting industries at home.

The dispute between France and Germany already comes at a fragile time, with the coalition admitting it will "probably miss its climate targets" for both 2022 and 2023 – a notable political blowback for the Greens.

Ultimately, the German coalition might have no other choice but to reconcile with either France or Russia – a move that could severely hinder its credibility and at worst, jeopardise its future.

Author bio

Isabel Schatzschneider is a research associate at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nüremberg, and environmental activist and researcher.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Where Germany's Greens and FDP will collide on environment

The Greens and the FDP disagree on major political issues. While they both support the climate battle, their ways of ushering change are vastly different: the Greens advocate tougher environmental laws and regulations, and the FDP calls for market-based solutions.

EU gas and nuclear rules derided as 'biggest greenwash ever'

Experts and activists have warned the European Commission that including natural gas and nuclear power in its plan for sustainable finance will lead to further greenwashing, split financial markets and undermine the bloc's climate objectives.

Critics attack Commission's New Year's Eve nuclear and gas plan

The European Commission has been accused of undermining public scrutiny of its plans to label natural gas and nuclear as a "green" investment - after it published its long-awaited proposal on New Year's Eve when "nobody was watching".


Is it goodbye to 'pacifist' Germany?

Many Germans saw the country as a benign power that will always favours diplomacy and peace-making over the use of force. Not any more.


Europe should help Germany, not lambast it over Ukraine crisis

For many Europeans it may be weird to hear German citizens tell phone-in programmes that "with weapons you cannot create peace" - as if Ukraine would be wrong to defend itself against an enormous military threat posed by Russia.

How much can we trust Russian opinion polls on the war?

The lack of Russian opposition to the Russo-Ukrainian War is puzzling. The war is going nowhere, Russian casualties are staggering, the economy is in trouble, and living standards are declining, and yet polls indicate that most Russians support the war.

Turkey's election — the Erdoğan vs Kılıçdaroğlu showdown

Turkey goes to the polls in May for both a new parliament and new president, after incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided against a post-earthquake postponement. The parliamentary outcome is easy to predict — the presidential one less so.

Latest News

  1. How German business interests have shaped EU climate agenda
  2. The EU-Turkey migration deal is dead on arrival at this summit
  3. Sweden worried by EU visa-free deal with Venezuela
  4. Spain denies any responsibility in Melilla migrant deaths
  5. How much can we trust Russian opinion polls on the war?
  6. Banning PFAS 'forever chemicals' may take forever in Brussels
  7. EU Parliament joins court case against Hungary's anti-LGBTI law
  8. Three French MEPs to stay on election-observation blacklist

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality
  5. Promote UkraineInvitation to the National Demonstration in solidarity with Ukraine on 25.02.2023
  6. Azerbaijan Embassy9th Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting and 1st Green Energy Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us