In an interview with DW-TV, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel talked about Germany's need to reduce energy consumption, phasing out nuclear energy and his choice for chancellor in 2009.
Gabriel previously served as premier of Lower Saxony
DW-TV: Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats has been in office for some 100 days. How do you feel about her now?
Sigmar Gabriel: I think I can be very happy. She used to be environment minister herself. She understands the issues, appreciates their importance and accepts they need action. I think we reached a coalition agreement that is the strongest that Germany has seen. As a result, we're in a good position.
How do you feel about your own party, the Social Democrats? Opinion polls suggest that public approval of the conservatives has grown since the coalition was formed and support for the SPD has dwindled.
I think it has to do with the fact we have a woman as chancellor -- of course, she's the center of attention. I think that's a normal process. That's not something to be impressed by. The Social Democrats must remain the motor driving the coalition and that will mean Frau Merkel and her party will be involved in central domestic topics. Once that happens, the relationship will even out.
As environment minister you're also responsible for nuclear power plants. Some conservatives want them to stay online longer. Why are you against that?
Gabriel wants Germany's nuclear power plants offline sooner than later
Ask our conservative coalition partners why they're suddenly for it. Just a few weeks ago, we signed off on a coalition document which includes a phase-out of nuclear energy within the agreed timeframe. We say the risks associated with nuclear power are so great that we shouldn't make our long term energy supply dependent on it. In view of the international security situation, I think there's good reason to phase out nuclear power more quickly, rather than more slowly.
What do you expect on the future of nuclear energy? Will the deal be revised?
It certainly won't be up for debate. The chancellor herself has said she stands by the coalition agreement and the phase-out. We need initiatives for more efficiency; we need to bring energy consumption down in Germany, both in industry and in the home. We need to build up capacity in terms of renewable energy. We have to invest more in research into energy storage. We need technology for low- or no CO2 emission for coal and gas. Those are the main topics for the energy summit (in April), along with the question of how we can guarantee international security of supplies.
The German environmentalist organization BUND summed up the first 100 days of the coalition by saying: "Gabriel is doing a good job, but overall the coalition lacks a clear policy line." Do you agree?
Of course I don't agree, because I think we do have a clear line. But we can't prove in 100 days that we're making good on that policy in practical terms. As regards the environment, we've done a lot. We've implemented a CO2 building renovation program. We've signed on to Montreal-Kyoto 2. There's the aviation noise pollution law and the foodstuffs labeling law and many other achievements from the first 100 days. But BUND is right in one point: the really hard work will come in 2006 -- also in other policy areas. We have to prove we're staying the line, that's the important task.
So all in all, the governing coalition is still facing the really big problems. Apart from phasing out nuclear energy, you still have to tackle the issue of a minimum wage and stabilize the welfare state. How long can things remain placid?
Dealing with Germany's ageing population will be a major task
Well you have to admit that it would be astounding if we'd sorted out everything you've just mentioned in the first 100 days. Of course, the major tasks are coming now. We've agreed on a coalition for a four-year term and I think we have to do our duty and pull our weight in getting things done. We have to really get to grips with projects like health, old-age pensions, the job market, employment, energy policy. The circumstances are good, because the atmosphere in the coalition is good. I think, if conflicts do arise, then it's good at the start, if both sides are prepared to make the effort and that is the case in this coalition.
Who should be the Social Democrat candidate for the chancellorship at the next elections in 2009?
My opinion is clear: I think it should be (SPD leader) Matthias Platzeck. He's said he will make that decision in due time. And he's right -- that time is not now. But I think the party leader is first in line. And I'm fairly sure that's how it will be.
Christian F. Trippe interviewed Sigmar Gabriel (win)