German Election Results Signal New Opportunities For Land Use Politics

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel

By Stefan Evers

Eagerly awaited results of the state elections in Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate brought a caesura in the political history of Germany. For the first time ever, the Green Party will provide the Prime Minister of a German state (Bundesland). This break, in a state run by the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for decades, will not be without serious effects for the political landscape in the entire republic.

The release of the late March election results proved that this election was not decided by matters of education, economy and social policies, as is usually the case in state elections in Germany. The most important topic for voters was an entirely different question: What was up for election was the future of German energy and environmental politics.

This is not surprising. Ever since images of the damaged nuclear power plant of Fukushima dominated the media coverage, the anti-nuclear movement, most carried by the Green Party, has seen an unprecedented upswing. The images’ force even prompted the federal government of CDU and Free Democratic Party (FDP) to go against their former principles of energy politics and immediately shut down several nuclear power plants.

This much is as good as certain these days: that the government, led by Angela Merkel, will speed up Germany’s nuclear energy exit and its switch to a more extensive use of fossil and renewable energies. This includes the need for incredibly high investments in the German energy infrastructure. The costs of this energy-political change will, according to experts, be comparable to those of the German reunification.

But there is another great challenge of the energy turnaround, on an entirely different level: Construction and expansion of a new energy infrastructure can only be successful if German planning laws are completely readjusted, especially in the field of civic participation.

According to current planning laws, civic participation today is simply a participation of people directly affected, often leading to years of legal proceedings. The large public considers itself to be excluded from important decisions. There are generally no direct scopes of influence on planning. During recent years, this has led to great frustration and heated political debates.

The federal government already announced to prepare a new planning law, on the grounds of these experiences, including a speeding-up of proceedings and also including the public as early as the planning stages. The democratic legitimization of planning decisions is to be distinctly strengthened by a better civic participation. How this is to be achieved remains unclear for now.

One wonders how local politics and the German economy will react to the planned reorientation of the planning law. Experience shows that, up to now, both are unprepared to positively shape public political controversies on infrastructure measures. This will have to change very soon. It is another result of the March 27th elections, and a great opportunity for consultants specialized on land use politics.

Stefan Evers is managing director of PKS Wirtschafts-und Politikberatung in Berlin

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