German government in crisis amid boiler ban controversy
The unprecedented leak of a draft law banning new fossil heaters in Germany from 2024 is causing trouble at the highest level of government, adding to difficulties in pushing through the proposal.
Currently, 20 million homes in Germany are heated with gas, alongside 10 million oil and coal heating systems. In 2022, Germans installed some 600,000 gas boilers, making the German building sector one of the greatest laggards on climate protection, having missed multiple annual targets.
To achieve climate neutrality by 2045 and face the near-total halt of Russian gas deliveries, the German government agreed last year to ban the installation of new fossil heaters from 2024, with only devices running on 65% renewable energy allowed going forward.
The move is expected to help Germany avoid some 40 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions until 2030, according to government estimates.
But when Economy and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck sought to put the de facto ban into law, Berlin was quickly awash with strife.
On 1 March, Germany’s best-selling tabloid Bild ran a story titled “Habeck wants to ban gas and oil heating systems”, based on a draft law obtained by the paper. “How the heating hammer hits YOU,” the article laid out, fanning the flames of opposition to the law, which is led by homeowner associations and the liberal FDP party, which is a member of Germany’s ruling three-party coalition.
The leak, a departure from government policy, has seemingly caused significant trust issues in the government.
Before a draft law is ever entered into the formal procedure of coordinating with other ministries, the German government circulates it internally to ward off any hiccups. So far, this stage has been watertight, the vice-chancellor noted.
Mistrust and in-fighting
Leaking the draft to Bild had “destroyed” talks within the government to build unity on issues like financing, Habeck added. “This was probably done deliberately, in order to obtain a cheap tactical advantage,” he said.
Deliberate leaks “don’t happen by accident,” Habeck noted. “That’s why I’m a bit alarmed whether there is any will to reach an agreement at all” on the boiler ban.
The German government is a coalition of the social democrat FDP, the Greens and the business-friendly FDP. Less than two years into its term, it appears to be deeply mired in infighting.
Wolfgang Kubicki, vice-chair of the FDP, previously compared Habeck to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two possessed a “similar conviction that the state, the leader, the chosen one, knows better than the people what is good for them,” Kubicki said. He has since apologised for the statement.
The Greens’ Katrin Göring-Eckardt, vice president of the Bundestag, told Tagesspiegel that “this is no way to treat each other among democratic parties, and certainly not among coalition partners”.
Others sought to calm tensions in the government.
“The public quarrelling of the last few days, the blaming each other, that is not what we need right now to move the country forward,” SPD chief Lars Klingbeil told ARD and Rheinische Post. “That is what this coalition will be judged on in the end,” he stressed.
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Already, the next federal elections seem to loom large in the minds of the government’s top politicians. Habeck said the boiler ban could not be delayed due to the upcoming elections, due to be held by 26 October 2025.
“We will have the federal election in 2025. It would be very naive to think that such a [controversial] law would be passed in an election year,” the Green politician stressed.
More than a year in, the government’s polling figures continue to fuel the infighting. While the SPD is seemingly stable at above 20%, 3-5% below their 2021 result, the FDP is struggling to stay above 5%, down from their 11.5% result achieved in 2021.
When the Greens, who sat around 20% for months – above their 14.8% result in 2021 – began dropping below 10%, derision from government partners quickly followed.
“They compensate for their dwindling importance with meaningless bluster,” Kubicki told Tagesspiegel on Sunday.
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Patching things up
Next Sunday (27 March), the government’s top brass is slated to meet to patch things up. The format, the “coalition committee”, gathers party leaders and top ministers.
“We need to focus on ourselves and realise once again what a privilege it is to be in this government,” Habeck stressed ahead of the meeting.
Should a consensus on climate protection be found, several key laws are expected to enter the legislative process. “You will see that in the next few weeks we will pass laws by the dozen, because they are all already written,” he highlighted.
Some laws, like the energy efficiency law, have been stuck in the intra-government coordination process for almost an entire year. An intervention by Chancellor Olaf Scholz in late 2022 to speed up the process was seemingly ineffectual.
Other contentious issues include the role of the state in energy suppliers like Uniper or SEFE, formerly Gazprom Germania, as well as EU plans to boost renovation rates by setting minimum standards.
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