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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks before the Bundestag
Scholz defended his government's energy policy as prices soarImage: Markus Schreiber/AP/picture alliance

Germany's Scholz and opposition leader spar in budget debate

September 7, 2022

Conservative opposition leader Friedrich Merz called the government's energy plan "madness" amid inflated prices. Chancellor Scholz fired back that the current crisis was caused by the policies of Merz's CDU party.


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and opposition leader Friedrich Merz engaged in a fierce exchange in Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, on Wednesday.

The budget debate got heated as Merz, the leader of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), accused Scholz's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and its coalition partners of failing the German people amidst an energy crunch and soaring inflation. He called the coalition "incapable of strategic thought" and reduced to "the lowest common denominator" on which the three parties could all agree.

Scholz, for his part, blamed the CDU, which was in power for 16 years under former Chancellor Angela Merkel of being "incapable of advancing the expansion of renewable energies," and making Germany too reliant on Russian gas.

What did each side say in the debate?

Merz opened the debate with harsh criticism for Scholz as well as for Robert Habeck, who is both deputy chancellor and economic affairs minister – a brief that also includes energy policy.

"None of us wants to go back to the old nuclear energy, which we ended in Germany in 2011," Merz said, referring to when the country's nuclear phaseout began. "But the economics minister's decision to keep two of those nuclear plants only in reserve was a big mistake," he said.

The CDU leader said that Germany risked becoming the laughingstock of its European neighbors, who he said were surely thinking: "Are these Germans actually crazy to shut down three nuclear power plants in this situation?"

"Stop this madness while we still have the time!" Merz shouted at Scholz.

Scholz countered that it was Merkel's government who left Germany in a precarious position, accusing them of actively blocking the development of renewables.

The CDU, he said, "fought hard against every single wind power station," and made "decisions that are still damaging Germany today."

"That was you!" the chancellor said emphatically, neglecting to note that his SPD ruled in coalition with the CDU from 2005 to 2009 and from 2013 to 2021.

Scholz, Merz trade barbs in German Bundestag

Scholz: Germany rapidly weaning itself off Russian energy

In his speech, Scholz maintained the country would continue "at great speed" to become less dependent on Russian energy.

He said Germany had worked effectively to shift its energy supplies away from Russia, by stockpiling gas, and expediting the construction of gas terminals, placing it in a healthy position for winter. The gas reserves — currently over 86% capacity — will be used to heat homes, generate electricity and power industry. The first gas terminals are due to open this winter.

"Because we started so early, when it wasn't even such a big awareness of the problem in Germany, we are now in a situation that we can head into the winter courageously and bravely — our country can survive," he said, adding that Berlin was working closely with its European partners.

"We have spoken with our friends on the west European coast, with the Netherlands and Belgium for them to expand (LNG) terminals and pipeline capacities with France which will for the first time deliver gas to us."

"What we have achieved with the terminals.... we will guarantee a secure energy supply for Germany," he said.

As Russia scales back its gas deliveries, Scholz's government has restarted shuttered coal power plants, and decided to keep two nuclear power plants on standby instead of closing them at the end of the year as scheduled.

Cost of living crisis

The back-and-forth continued as the debate moved on to inflation and the rising cost of living being felt across Germany.

Left party parliamentary group leader Amira Mohamed Ali accused the coalition of neglecting the needs of many people across the company. She called the government's relief package a "slap in the face" to citizens and demanded that leaders return to the negotiating table with Russia to "ensure the security" of gas supplies.

Christian Dürr, parliamentary group leader for the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), which is also in the government coalition, categorically rejected the idea of a gas price cap as has been seen in other European countries.

The suggestion of a cap, put forward by the Left and CDU, would "make taxpayers cover the rising cost of energy" themselves, saying it would cost 38 billion euros in public funds.

"We know that many people are afraid" of a decline in standard of living and of poverty, said Green caucus leader Britta Hasselmann, defending the government's plan. "And we are trying to cushion that."

es, aw/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

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