Election Standoff in NRW – Consequences for Energy Policy Unclear

The preliminary official result of the state election of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) show the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of the incumbent prime minister of NRW, Jürgen Rüttgers, and the Social Democratic Union (SPD), lead by Hannelore Kraft, locked in a standoff.  As with this result the CDU/FDP coalition in Berlin under Chancellor Angela Merkel no longer has a majority in the Bundesrat (Federal Council), upcoming federal energy legislation will be also be affected.

After losing more than 10% of the votes compared with the last election, the CDU polled 34.6%, while the SPD lost less and reached 34.5%. With 6.7% of the votes, the CDU’s current coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) did not obtain enough votes to ensure a second term for a CDU/FDP coalition government.

The big winners of the election were the Greens, who gained 6.2%s to 12.4%.  With 5.7% of the votes, the far-left The Left party will be in the state parliament for the first time.

Both CDU and SPD will have 67 seats of the 181 seats in the new NRW parliament. Since the Greens will hold 23 seats, neither an SPD Green coalition government nor a CDU Green government would have a majority. Before the election only the FDP had declared its preference for the CDU, all other parties had expressly or indirectly kept all options open. A coalition between the SPD, the Greens and The Left would have 101 seats. In the run-up to the elections, Mrs Kraft (SPD), had never expressly excluded a coalition with The Left, however, the SPD had often said, The Left was not capable of governing. A grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD would provide the most stable majority with 134 seats. According to the state radio and television station WDR, Mrs Kraft did not exclude a grand coalition, but said the CDU’s heavy loss indicated that her SPD party should have the leading role.

The loss of a CDU/FDP majority in NRW means that the CDU/FDP coalition in Berlin under Chancellor Angela Merkel no longer has a majority in the Bundesrat, (Federal Council), the legislative body that represents the sixteen Länder (Federal States) on the federal level. Under the German constitution the passing of laws in certain areas affecting the states requires Bundesrat approval.

Some potential changes to energy laws could require the Bundesrat’s consent. For example, it is not yet clear whether the extension of the operating time of the German nuclear power plants will require Bundesrat approval. While the CDU prime ministers of Saarland, Lower-Saxony and NRW were reported to assume that Bundesrat approval will be necessary, their CDU counterparts in Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Hesse have voiced a different opinion. Authors from the Scientific Services (Wissenschaftliche Dienste) of the Bundestag recently published their opinion that an extension of the operating time of the nuclear plants requires the Bundesrat’s consent. The amendment of the Atomic Energy Act (AtG), which lead to the nuclear phase-out under the former SPD/Green government headed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, had been decided without the Bundesrat.

The upcoming changes to the Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz (Renewable Energie Sources Act – EEG) to reduce the German solar fee-in tariffs do not require approval from the Bundesrat.

Further effects will be felt on the state level, including the permitting of conventional power plants. As it is not yet clear who will ultimaltely form the new government in NRW, the exact consequences for energy policy in NRW and Germany as whole remain to be seen.

Sources: Ministry of the Interior of NRW, WDR, Yahoo, Bundestag

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