What drives German energy politics?
Aktualisiert: 9. Feb. 2021
Literature on interest groups typically suggests that economic interest groups with large economic threat potential (conflict capacity) and high organizational capacity are structurally more powerful than “weak” interests, such as environmental and climate protection. In particular, a high number of veto points or veto players should make profound change unlikely, all the more if the change runs both against a deeply entrenched path dependence and against the interests of powerful interest groups.
However, evidence from modern German energy politics since 1998 tells a contrary story: Large energy corporations, equipped with enormous economic resources and strong political ties, could not hinder politicians to implement comprehensive change in energy and climate policies – and shut down nuclear power plants, promote renewables, impede coal-fired power generation and introduce emissions trading, all against the will of strong interest groups, despite the high veto density in the institutional setting, and notwithstanding fossil-nuclear path dependence.
In the most extensive political science study carried out thus far, this dissertation explores how interest groups intermediation, veto opportunities and electoral pressure inform policy output across four energy policy fields over 15 years. The findings provide evidence that logics of political competition in new German politics have fundamentally changed over the last two decades, with respect to five distinct mechanisms:
The age of “fossil-nuclear” corporatism is over, superimposed by more pluralist patterns of interest intermediation, which opened the floor for competing actors beyond incumbent power companies.
With the new multitude of actors and intense public debate on energy policy issues, trust has become key for the assertion of interests, whereas economic power has turned less relevant.
Initial small legislative steps have set new “green” path dependence into motion, which has engendered self-reinforcing lock-in effects and superseded the previous “fossil-nuclear” path dependence.
Faced with increased difficulties in coalition-building, mainstream parties adjusted their programmatic profile to steal voters from the popular Green party and access the Greens as potential coalition partner – leading to a “greening” of both major center parties.
The crucial divide runs between the environmental wing and the economic wing within parties, rather than between parties. Environmental politicians of different parties have larger ideological consensus than with economic politicians of their own party.
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