Putting Jobs First Merkel Backpedals on Climate

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has long been on the front lines in the battle against climate change. But with the economy in a downturn, she may be changing her tune.

It used to be that when environmentalists looked to Berlin, they saw one of their closest allies in the fight against climate change. For much of the last three years, Chancellor Angela Merkel has made the fight to reduce global CO2 emissions a signature issue of her government.

On Monday, though, Merkel finds herself under fire from many of her former allies. In a Monday article in the mass-circulation tabloid Bild, Merkel said that she will not approve any European Union climate rules "that endanger jobs or investments in Germany."

German Chancellor Merkel has said that the environment should take a back seat to jobs.

German Chancellor Merkel has said that the environment should take a back seat to jobs.

The Green Party in Berlin, which has for years had to stand by and watch as Merkel appropriated one of its central issues, was quick to react. "Merkel has abdicated her position as climate chancellor," said Bärbel Höhn, acting floor leader for the Greens in parliament. "The fact that the chancellor is trying to play the issue of jobs off against the environment shows her economic ignorance and her amnesia when it comes to climate issues."

The environmental and development group Oxfam echoed the sentiment, saying that "with her behavior, Ms. Merkel has demonstrated to developing countries that protecting climate-harming industries in Germany is more important than preventing a global climate catastrophe."

Merkel's comments come ahead of the European Union summit in Brussels this Thursday and Friday. In addition to the financial crisis, heads of state and government from the 27 member states will be looking to approve the bloc's much-touted package of rules aimed at reducing CO2 emissions. The package aims to reduce overall bloc emissions by 20 percent by 2020 relative to 1990 levels.

Part of that package was a rule to require all new cars to emit just 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer travel, averaged over a manufacturer's entire fleet. In an agreement reached last week, the original deadline of 2012 was staggered and will now come into full effect in 2015. Fines on companies not meeting the target were also lowered.

Sticking Points

Apart from the auto industry, however, there are a number of other sticking points, with numerous EU countries trying to secure exceptions for their domestic industries. Poland's efforts to be granted concessions due to its heavily coal-reliant energy sector have received the most press. But Merkel too is looking for exceptions for Germany's steel, chemical and cement factories.

German Economics Minister Michael Glos, in Brussels for a meeting of EU ministers on the bloc's energy policy, echoed Merkel's pre-summit comments on Monday. "It is incredibly important that competitiveness of German industry not be endangered by the climate package," he said.

It wasn't just environmental groups who were critical of Merkel on Monday. Former German Environment Minister Klaus Töpfer, of Merkel's own Christian Democrats, told the Cologne daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger on Monday that "climate policy cannot be treated as disposable when it comes to proposals regarding economic stimulus. Doing so is acting irresponsibly from both an economic and environmental perspective. Only those who are ahead environmentally can create the jobs of the future. Climate friendly production is the solution to the crisis, not the cause."

In her interview with Bild, Merkel also said that she is planning a meeting for next Sunday in the Berlin chancellery to discuss possible further steps to combat the financial and economic crises. In addition to Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, Labor Minister Olaf Schulz and Economics Minister Glos, a number of representatives from the banking industry will likewise be invited as will economics experts.

Merkel has been heavily criticized for what many see as a hesitant reaction to the worsening economy in Germany and the rest of Europe. Seemingly in answer to such criticism, the chancellor told Bild: "The point of the meeting next Sunday is a collective analysis to obtain the most clarity possible about the economic developments we can expect in 2009. I will continue to keep all options open. But I am not a fan of daily speculation about new possibilities."

cgh -- with wire reports


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