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Merkel’s chance for European leadership

Merkel’s chance for European leadership

Green growth should pave the way 

by Ruud Lubbers in Amsterdam & Paul van Seters in Utrecht

Tue 17 Sep 2013

Growing attention has been given to the likelihood that the next German government after the 22 September elections will be a Grand Coalition between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the opposition Social Democrats. However, we should not neglect the possibility that Chancellor Merkel could form an alliance with the ecologist Green party. In both cases this would give Merkel the opportunity to forge ahead with a plan to reinvigorate the European and world economy via environmentally-oriented green growth.

Euroscepticism is much more prevalent in Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their present coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats. Both the Social Democrats and the Greens favour the introduction of mutualised Eurobonds among members of economic and monetary union (EMU), a fiscal union, and a banking union.

Merkel’s manoeuvring room since the outbreak of the euro crisis in 2010 has been limited by growing anti-European sentiment in Germany generally, and within the two coalition parties in particular. A Grand Coalition or CDU–Green government would provide Merkel with a new lease of life, allowing her to play a much more decisive role in applying stronger and more effective European governance.

Merkel should throw her full support behind the plan for growth, investment and jobs put forward by Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

This is the chance for Germany to overcome what the Oxford historian Timothy Garton Ash calls Germany’s particular political affliction, ‘reluctance to lead’. In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, he asks: ‘Can Europe’s most powerful country lead the way in building both a sustainable, internationally competitive Eurozone and a strong, internationally credible European Union?’

Merkel already went on the offensive after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011 by deciding the so-called ‘Energiewende’ to replace nuclear energy with green energy. Although the policy has been heavily criticised on cost grounds, it is the right approach. However there is more at stake than green energy. In the US shale gas is causing an energy revolution. Solar has become spectacularly cheap. Wind is going off-shore. All in all, climate change remains the overarching challenge. Merkel’s commitment to greening Germany’s energy sources is of historic importance. After 22 September a new coalition could further strengthen this commitment.

In the Netherlands, earlier this month, an energy accord was signed by the Dutch government, employer organisations, trade unions and a number of social organisations. There is considerable overlap – in spirit as well as in content – between the energy transition in Germany and the Dutch accord. Both can and will greatly profit from the new European budget.

In coming years, the European Union and its member states should make green growth into a centrepiece of the European economy. That is how Angela Merkel can show the world she is the leader Europe needs and is waiting for.

Ruud Lubbers is the former Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
Paul van Seters is Professor of Globalisation and Sustainable Development at Tilburg University.
Both are members of the OMFIF Advisory Board.

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