(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s Greens suffered back-to-back defeats this week at the hands of their two partners in the ruling coalition, giving ground on climate-protection measures and agreeing to a possible exception to the European Union’s proposed combustion-engine ban.
The three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition — his Social Democrats, the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats — decided this week to water down a plan pushed by the environmentalist party to ban oil and gas heaters. They also gave their backing to 144 new highway projects as part of the jumbo policy accord.
The setback comes at a bad time for the Greens, which is under pressure to dial back its climate protection goals in the face of new political priorities due to the Ukraine war reshaping Europe’s energy needs and falling popularity. In the latest Forsa poll, they dropped to 18%, down from their high of 25% in August.
“What we have decided isn’t yet sufficient so we’ll keep at it,” Ricarda Lang, co-head of the Green party, told Deutschlandfunk radio, adding that the compromise was “painful.” Katharina Droege, co-leader of the Greens caucus in the Bundestag, told Der Spiegel magazine: “It’s no secret that we Greens think that more should have been decided for the climate in this coalition meeting.”
The fractious alliance has been struggling to find a unified voice and their differences have begun affecting EU decision making, according to people familiar with the situation.
The Greens managed to gain some concessions from the coalition agreement, such as an increase in the truck toll and a decision to invest 80% of the additional revenues in the modernization of the railway network.
“It all turns out to be positive that the coalition meeting took its time,” Veronika Grimm from the Council of Economic Experts said in an interview. “The results encourage us to believe that the coalition is capable of action.”
Earlier in the week, Germany forced through explicit provisions for how certain high-end vehicles may get a future exemption from a planned zero-emissions rule for cars, potentially weakening the regulation initially meant to end combustion engines in the bloc.
“The German Liberals have caused massive damage to the trustworthiness of the German government,” Philippe Lamberts, president of the Green party in European Parliament, said this week. “This attitude should have been held in check by the German chancellor, who yet again demonstrated a worrying lack of leadership.”
Manfred Guellner, head of the Forsa polling institute, said that the Green Economy Minister Robert Habeck has lost much of his popularity due to shifting public priorities.
“Voters still care about climate protection, but in the short term rising prices are more important to them,” Guellner said in an interview.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, was forced to rethink its energy strategy after Russia invaded Ukraine, pushing prices up. Before the invasion, Germany depended on Moscow for 52% of its gas imports; it hasn’t received any since September.
“We are seeing an identity crisis of all three coalition partners,” Ulrich Sarcinelli, a political scientist at the University of Koblenz-Landau, said in an interview. “People are beginning to realize that climate protection has a direct effect on their wallets.”
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