Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is credited with a quote that says it all: “Anyone with visions should see a doctor.” This bon mot is often used to reduce supposedly insane ideas to absurdity.
In the meantime, however, a generation of politicians from all camps seems to be interpreting this phrase all wrong. This manifests itself in an unimaginative, anemic policy that does not describe any kind of future and lives in speech bubbles. Accordingly, the Bundestag election campaign of the last few weeks was empty of content.
The Greens crashed – despite the climate crisis. A jubilant CDU/CSU made itself comfortable with a blithe “carry on as before,” presumably not even realizing what “carry on as before” meant. Example: Angela Merkel’s policies in recent years have included many failures, one of which was the straying into a transportation policy that can only be described as sabotage.
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While the financial cornucopia was opened for the transformation to electromobility, no guardrails have been put in place to guide the way. As always, it was thought that everything could be solved through a checkbook policy. The bill, however, has been ignored for years and played no role in the election campaign. For the citizens, however, it did.
Speaking of the election campaign. It could have been filled with plenty of content, starting with the climate, transport, energy, infrastructure, digital, industry and foreign policy, but none of the major parties really seemed to give these topics much thought. The country was running on (analog) autopilot while a jaded troop of politicians in the spaceship Berlin, who had never really worked a day in their lives, told the people that they would have to spend even more money in the future.
Successor to “Mommy”
As in poker, the one who flinched the least won the race: Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrats’ candidate. His strategy: “Let the others plow ahead. In the end, I’ll be the last man standing” turned out to be spot on. Content from the Social Democrats? Nope. No answers to the important political questions of the coming years. The usual platitudes such as “social justice” and “tax increases” came from the backbenchers. Scholz actually made Merkel’s signature rhombus with his hands and saw himself as the successor to “Mommy,” as “Daddy,” so to speak.
The CDU/CSU, it became clear toward the end of the election campaign, had never left the sleeping car. One has to wonder how the result was still in the 20 percent range.
The Free Democrats (FDP) tried to pursue a policy based on arguments, naturally very difficult in an emotionally charged environment. First-time voters, in particular, were convinced by the FDP’s election program (in the absence of alternatives) and outnumbered first-time voters for the Greens, which the press commented on with glee.
Industrial Museum of Germany
And “the press” had to painfully realize that its blatant campaign support for the Greens was hardly accepted by the public. Sure, the climate is important, but those who fear for their fortunes are hard to convince to spend even more money on, for example, a completely bungled energy transition, baby steps in digitalization or wantonly sabotaged infrastructure.
Industry, on the other hand, remained conspicuously silent. Only here and there was there talk of Germany’s sliding downwards towards becoming an industrial museum. Of course, the perpetual call for subsidies and low energy prices did not stop before the election.
So what can we expect for the future? Will a coalition be formed that can solve the pressing problems of the next few years? Climate, energy, transport, digitalization and industry, to name but a few?
It is almost certain that both coalitions, i.e., black-green-yellow (a so-called Jamaica coalition, based on the trademark colors of the CDU/CSU, Green and FDP parties and the Jamaican flag) or red-yellow-green (traffic light coalition – consisting of the SDP, FDP and Green parties), will introduce the 130 km/h speed limit on highways. This is more or less a fig leaf for the climate debate. Electromobility will continue as before in both coalitions. Whether the sleepiness in the ministries of transport and economics will be broken depends on the protagonists. It is possible that the government subsidy for hybrid vehicles will be canceled at the behest of the Greens. Investment in infrastructure will be made difficult by the Green coalition partner. There, highways are no longer the top priority, but rather bicycle paths for their urban clientele.
The price of gas
The price of gasoline will continue to rise, if only because of the CO2 tax, and will certainly approach three euros. This will cause unrest. Already, the two-euro threshold for super-grade gas on highways has been broken here and there.
Energy prices will rise. And significantly. This is counterproductive for electromobility, but the state needs revenue to pay for the messed-up EEG.
The share of coal-fired power plants, however, will not decline as quickly as expected. This is because the shutdown of the last nuclear power plants will have to close a 10 GW gap for industry, especially in the south. The expansion of renewable energy generation will be accelerated, but for the time being it will hardly develop any relevance for the base load, because the important north-south connection for the power grid remains the problem child of the industry.
So this means more imports from France (nuclear power) and Poland (coal).
Energy storage will continue to be treated as a red-headed stepchild, even the hydrogen bubble will not change that. But this is only relevant for a Jamaica coalition anyway. In a traffic light coalition, hydrogen as storage would be nothing to write home about. On the other hand, you hear very little from the Greens on this.
Home builders and homeowners could face painfully higher costs from a solar roof mandate. Energy optimization measures for existing properties will almost certainly be expensive under either coalition. That, too, will cause turmoil.
Can we expect “innovations?” For example, V2G technology that stabilizes the power grid as a result of fluctuating power from solar and wind? Or greater efforts in digitalization? Or research into new energy generators like the liquid salt reactor?
Here the ideology will stand more (traffic light coalition) or less (Jamaica coalition) in the way. Pragmatism would be the order of the day, but will hardly be able to prevail, as the experience of the last decades teaches us. All-encompassing bureaucracy will hinder any fast or more dynamic changes.
The conditions for a “real vision,” that much is certain, are conceivably poor, no matter which coalition is formed in the end. The only question is whether there will then be enough doctors – this time for the citizen, who is supposed to pay for it all.
About this column:
In this weekly column, written alternately by Bert Overlack, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugène Franken, Helen Kardan, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, sometimes supplemented by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way to find solutions to the problems of our time.
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