Angela Merkel’s No-Win Decision

Germany’s chancellor forced to play Truth or Dare in energy politics

Illustration by Jennifer Kohnke

A striking blow or a smart political maneuver? Chancellor Angela Merkel’s directive to temporarily shut down seven of the 17 atomic power plants in Germany came as a response to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. Or did it? Strangely enough, her decision also came just days before the Mar.27 regional elections in Baden Württemberg.

Pragmatic or not, her action was also in response to a demonstration initiated by some 250,000 people in Germany’s biggest cities against the use of nuclear power. Maybe.

Only six months earlier, she had ignored the results of a nation-wide poll against the future use of atomic energy and had extended the life of Germany’s existing nuclear power plants by 12 years, claiming that they are some of the world’s safest. This assessment will be reviewed during the up-coming three-month moratorium, and serve as grounds for the ongoing discussions of the future of nuclear power in Germany.

Germans have a long history of uneasiness over nuclear power dating from Chernobyl, and seem now to see Fukushima as a warning of risks in their own setting. And even though tsunamis are unthinkable in this nearly land-locked northern European country – about as likely as sandstorms (leaving one with fantasies of building sand castles around the Brandenburg Gate). But earth quakes or terrorist attacks are not out of the question.

Japan is no Germany, nor is Germany Japan. Their energy needs are different. Germany, only slightly smaller in size, has only 2/3 the population, yet uses almost double the amount of nuclear energy compared to Japan. Nearly a fourth (22.4%) of the total German power supply comes from atomic fission. So with this level of dependency on nuclear energy, it will be very difficult to shut down over a third of its reactors, and certainly will not be feasible over night.

So then, why, all of a sudden, reverse the established policy with no approaching environmental threat – a question many Germans are still demanding an answer to. If it had been purely for safety reasons, the decision would have to have come much earlier.

Was there, however, another alternative for Merkel?

Reversing her own policy by 180 degrees and claiming to have done it to calm the public uproar, it can be argued, was Iron Angie’s way of dealing with the pressing issue and a probable attempt to win the then upcoming elections in Baden Württemberg. The fact that she lost them with 39% to the Green Party, Mar. 27, indicates that her approach might not have seemed authentic to the German public.

But then could she have done nothing at all? Of course.  So in that case, she would have run the risk of being framed as stone cold and not responding to the collective interest of the public.

In short, it was probably a no-win situation, and surely not an enviable position to be in. At the end of the day, a decision has to be made. Pick your poison.  Both options would be political disasters. But if no one is going to believe you anyway, you might as well do the right thing.

Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » appearance » Widgets » and move a widget into Advertise Widget Zone