Relations within German chancellor Olaf Scholz’s fragile coalition government plunged to a new low on Tuesday after the liberals held up one of the Greens’ pet projects — a bill to ban gas boilers in new houses as of next year — prompting accusations of breach of trust and double-dealing.
A clearly furious Robert Habeck, the Green vice-chancellor and economy minister, accused the liberals of “breaking their word”, saying the ruling parties had agreed at the end of March to push the draft law on boilers through parliament before the summer break.
That would now no longer be possible after the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) postponed parliamentary discussion of the bill in its first reading. “I note that the FDP is not honouring the promise they made,” he said.
The row between the FDP and Greens threatens to throw a spanner in the works of Scholz’s legislative agenda, after the Greens threatened to retaliate by blocking bills sponsored by the FDP.
Friedrich Merz, leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, spoke of a “lack of leadership and chaos in the [Social Democrat]-led government”.
Germany has long worried about the huge amount of CO₂ emitted by its buildings. The sector last year discharged 112mn tonnes of CO₂ equivalent, a figure that must fall to 67mn tonnes by 2030 if the country has any hope of meeting its climate goals.
About 80 per cent of heat for buildings is derived from the burning of fossil fuels, and experts agree that emissions will only come down substantially once the country switches to renewable energy sources such as heat pumps. The switch is seen as a cornerstone of Germany’s plan to go carbon neutral by 2045.
Under the heating bill sponsored by Habeck’s economy ministry and passed by the cabinet in April, every newly installed heating system must rely up to 65 per cent on renewables from 2024. It in effect amounts to a ban on new gas boilers.
The Greens see the bill as a key part of their climate agenda. But the FDP, led by finance minister Christian Lindner, refused to put it on the Bundestag’s agenda for this week, saying it needed much more work.
Britta Hasselmann, head of the Greens’ parliamentary group, said she had always perceived the FDP as an “honest broker”. “This apparently no longer applies to Christian Lindner . . . the untrustworthiness just beggars belief,” she said.
But the FDP was defiant. Christian Dürr, head of its parliamentary group, said the bill was “obviously not quite ready — Greens and Social Democrats are likewise saying that, just as we are”.
“A lot of people are worried, with justification,” he told ARD, the public broadcaster. “At the end of the day we need a law where the heating system matches the house and not the other way round, and that is not yet guaranteed.”