The Energiewende as a European project – What options do German policymakers have?

We’ve talked before about the European Union’s efforts to deliver clean energy for all Europeans, and the fact that Germany’s energy transition will need Europe to be successful. But how will that cooperation look in practice? Today, Rebecca Bertram discusses a recent report about how German policymakers can shape the European energy debate.

Windmills against a blue sky seen from the German autobahn

The road to the Energiewende can’t be traveled alone (Photo by Usien, edited, CC BY-SA 1.0)

Germany has been criticized for not having included Europe in its Energiewende project. Instead of advocating for a joint energy transformation with its European neighbors, Germany barged ahead regardless of how the influx of cheap wind power would affect the energy systems of its neighbors.

However, tides are shifting. The ongoing EU energy and climate policy negotiations, the so-called “EU Winter Package,” are forcing Germany to take on a stronger European stance on its Energiewende. In fact, Europe has the power to considerably slow down Germany’s Energiewende in the years to come. A recent study by the Heinrich Böll Foundation makes a number of recommendations on how German policymakers can engage with their European counterparts on energy and climate policy over the next few years.

The ongoing negotiations on Europe’s energy and climate goals by 2030 not only offer an opportunity for German policy makers to shape a Europe-wide debate on the Energiewende, but also to ensure that the European framework supports the further development of the Energiewende at home. Energy experts agree that Germany’s Energiewende will be cheaper and more efficient if embedded in a fully integrated European electricity market. As such, Germany would need to build less back-up and storage capacities for growing shares of fluctuating wind and solar power capacities and could instead rely on back-up from its immediate neighbors.

An important starting point for a European energy discussion is the realization that this requires more from Germany than a simple copy and paste strategy of its own energy goals throughout the continent. Instead, German policymakers need to acknowledge the various energy policy interests and positions in key European capitals. Only then can Germany positively influence the path for European energy and climate discussions by 2030 and frame the narrative of the Energiewende in such a way that it provides answers to its harshest critics as well.

What options do German policymakers have when shaping the European Energiewende debate? The Heinrich Böll Foundation proposes a set of recommendations:

  • Policymakers should not just focus on defending renewable energy support schemes. Instead, the key ingredient to developing and shaping the European energy mix after 2020 is the electricity market design. This market must ensure that renewables become truly competitive with conventional energy sources. Policymakers need to highlight the benefits of an integrated European electricity to all European citizens and energy consumers.
  • Policymakers need to do their own homework. The most important contribution that Germany can make to advance the European Energiewende is to continue the construction of its national electricity grid and to reduce its reliance on coal in its electricity mix. This would show that Germany is serious about the Energiewende, and make the project less vulnerable to European criticism.
  • Policymakers need to address the concerns of their European neighbors seriously. An open and thoughtful dialogue with European Member States can only result in better identification of common synergies and energy policy interests. And discussion about energy should continue at the local level, for example on the management of structural change in coal regions throughout Europe.
  • Policymakers need to structure the Energiewende as social policy. Many European citizens have justified concerns about how the Energiewende would negatively affect their lives. If the Energiewende is to become a truly European project, adequate answers in social policy are required, for example when addressing energy poverty and structural change in affected regions.
  • Policymakers need to show that Germany is not going it alone. Currently, Germany is often wrongly regarded as the lone advocate for the Energiewende in Europe. Germany needs to build a European coalition with other progressive Energiewende frontrunners to show breakthroughs in the Energiewende are not only made in Germany.

These proposals were discussed at the German Bundestag last month. Let’s hope German policymakers realize that the Energiewende will only succeed if it becomes an integral part of an overall European energy policy.

For those of you who read German, continue reading the full report here.

Rebecca Bertram leads the European Energy Transition work at the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Headquarters in Berlin. Her work focuses on integrating the various European energy discussions into the German energy decision-making process. 


Rebecca Bertram works as a freelancer and consultant on energy and climate issues in Guatemala. She used to work for the Heinrich Böll Foundation both as the Director for the Energy and Environment program in the Washington D.C. office and as the Senior Policy Advisor for European Energy Policy at the Foundation's Headquarters in Berlin. Before that, she worked on international energy issues both for the German Ministry of Environment and the German Foreign Ministry. She holds a Master's degree in International Affairs and Economics from the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

1 Comment

  1. One more thing. The electrification of transport must become part of the Energiewende. Germany is well behind the leaders here (France, Norway, the Netherlands). Its cities are behind Amsterdam, Paris and London in fighting air pollution from ICEVs. Get moving!

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