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Business vs environmentsplits Schroeder cabinet

Published on 29/03/2004

29 March 2004

BERLIN – Battle lines have formed in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s cabinet between Germany’s staunch pro-business economics minister and the hardline Greens environment minister.

The struggle, which is over emission limits for German industry, features two men who appear to detest each other: Economics and Labour Superminister Wolfgang Clement and Environment Minister Juergen Trittin.

Clement hails from the conservative wing of Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) and is widely seen as the Chancellor’s last minister who enjoys support of German business leaders.

But after being presented as the great hope following Schroeder’s slim reelection in 2002, Clement has repeatedly been humiliated – most recently when Schroeder passed him over for an arch-rival as new SPD leader.

Trittin, who is from the leftist wing of the Greens, has proven very skilful at getting his political agenda turned into law.

Victories on Trittin’s watch include the planned closure of all German nuclear power plants in the coming decades; multi-billion euro subsidies for wind energy; and a law on deposits for disposable drink containers which has almost eliminated beer and soda cans in Germany.

Trittin is now demanding strict German emission limits from 2005. Binding regulations must be submitted by Germany and all other European Union nations to Brussels by 31 March.

In addition, Trittin wants the annual limit on pollution from the 2,400 German power plants and factories in the programme be limited to 499 million tons.

This is rejected by Clement who says Germany already leads the world in anti-pollution measures and that further steps will only speed up the export of jobs to countries with less strict controls.

“I won’t back anything which is an economic step backwards,” says Clement, who wants German reduction to begin between 2008 and 2012 and insists on an annual limit of 505 million tons of emissions.

Under this system – linked to the Kyoto global warming agreement – companies will be allowed to trade emission certificates allowing firms which cut pollution to sell their rights to others which fail to do so.

The newsweekly Der Spiegel says Chancellor Schroeder wants to support Clement on this and other reforms but that the rising power of left-wingers in his party means he has to compromise. Schroeder has been so badly weakened in the battle over economic reform that he was forced to quit as SPD leader earlier this year.

Under Schroeder’s leadership the SPD had fallen to record opinion poll lows. The party was trounced in Hamburg elections earlier this year and faces 13 more state, local and European elections in 2004.

Eager to avert a crisis, the Chancellor is due to meet late Monday with Trittin and Clement in a bid to cut a deal.

Analysts say any compromise must allow Clement to declare victory because resignation of the minister would damage the government’s economic credibility just as the long-awaited recovery seems to be going soft.

Clement claims he won’t quit over emissions but in recent months has publicly acted as if he was fed up with being in government.

“It’s almost like a cowboy Western. Clement is the sad hero riding toward his final showdown,” said the Frankfurther Allgemeine paper.

Der Spiegel describes Clement as more calculating and determined to resign before his image is ruined like that of Finance Minister Hans Eichel who went from being the iron-willed model of fiscal discipline to “a wobbly minister with no power after an endless series of defeats and humiliations.”

“Clement does not want to become a second Eichel who missed his chance for a dignified departure,” concluded Der Spiegel.

Subject: German news