Altmaier and Kraft lead energy talks

German environment minister Peter Altmaier and state premier Hannelore Kraft will lead a working group on energy within the framework of official coalition negotiations to form a new government that start today.

Altmaier will represent Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), which  together with their Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU), won 41.5% in the September federal election.

However, to form a government, Merkel needs the hitherto opposition Social Democrats (SPD), which gained 25.7%.

Kraft, the premier of North-Rhine-Westphalia, will represent the SPD in the energy talks. She is a firm backer of the coal industry that was traditionally strong in her state but that has been struggling in recent years.

In its election manifesto, the SPD lobbied for more ambitious targets for renewable energy than the CDU/CSU, but it also said coal and gas are still needed. Renewablesgroups, worried about Kraft leading the energy talks, called for a demonstration against coal and nuclear in central Berlin to put pressure on coalition talks.

Germany’s federal association for wind energy, the BWE, has warned of the coal lobby and large utilities attempting to stop Germany’s Energiewende, its transition away from nuclear towards renewables.

Coalition talks should send a strong signal that such a transition can be achieved in a highly industrialised country  in a socially and economically sound way, says BWE president Sylvia Pilarsky-Grosch.

“The parties that carry the new government must renew their commitment to a speedy Energiewende,” she demanded.

The fact that Altmaier is heading the energy working group is still no indication of whether he will also continue as environment minister. In a previous government based on an alliance between the CDU/CSU and the SPD that ruled between 2005 and 2009, the current SPD leader, Sigmar Gabriel, was environment minister.

The talks will concentrate on energy, while purely environmental questions are dealt with in a different group. The SPD had demanded the creation of a separate energy ministry that would co-ordinate the Energiewende, to avoid infighting between ministries on energy policies, as occurred frequently in Merkel’s outgoing administration.