The German example?

Is Germany so green?

In the latest Commission ranking on implementation and enforcement of EU environmental law for the 2003 year, Germany was average and arrived 7ème on 15. France being good last. Neither dunce, nor first in the class, Germany must overcome the difficulties related to the federal structure of the country while compensating for certain shortcomings and delays by other environmental advances.

The Ministry of the Environment's response to the latest warnings from the European Commission has been swift. On the one hand, the ministry defended its action by retorting that it had worked twice as hard to fill the "chronic backwardness" of Germany, on the other hand, by raising the difficult issue of the division of powers between the government and the Länder (Regions). In fact, the federal government does not have all the legal powers to enforce the same law for the whole country, some of the legislation falling within the competence of the Länder. "The federal organization of the country complicates the decision-making and enforcement of environmental law. For countries like France or Poland that are organized centrally, it is much easier to enforce laws across the country. In Germany, you have to go through a process that often means that the bills that the government is considering come in after the end of the negotiations, "summarizes Rüdiger Rosenthal, spokesman for the Bund, Germany's largest environmental association.

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A troublesome federal organization

This is how Germany got pinned on the Frankfurt airport expansion project, implemented by the government of the Land of Hesse. It provided indeed for the creation of a new landing strip passing just above a chemical industrial site… The Commission had also signaled its exasperation as for the application of the directive on the natural reserves. In 2004, four Länder, Brandenburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Saxony-Anhalt, had still not transposed the directive, the deadline for which was set in… 1994.

But for Rüdiger Rosenthal, the main problem of this political organization lies in the primacy of private interests over the common interest: "Take the example of transport policy. The Länder submit to the federal government a list of projects they wish to see happen. However, the local clientele, like the construction companies, are putting pressure on the Länder and will influence the development of this list, and this, in a rather negative way for the environment, as one can imagine ".

Germany in the middle

If Germany does not shine as much as one might think in terms of the environment, it is not last in the European class. The latest Commission report shows that, by the end of 2003, Germany had still not transposed 20 directives, which puts it at the level of the Netherlands and Belgium, France reaching the end classification with 38 cases of non-transposition. The price of excellence goes to Denmark with only 7 cases of directives not transposed.

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In its environmental ranking of the OECD countries (31 in all), the socio-environmental rating agency Oekom research also places Germany in the average. The low variety of species and the small area of ​​protected natural areas are, according to the agency, the environmental Achilles heel of the country. However, this situation is offset by the "exemplary" management of resources, resulting in low energy consumption, low waste, and consequently a high recycling rate, as well as a low rate of gas emissions. - figures that are measured according to the economic productivity of the country, says Marnie Bammert, of the Munich agency.

The agency also notes that the country has, in addition to the Ministry of the Environment, an environmental agency, and has also institutionalized a council of environmental experts. In addition, in line with the UN's 21 agenda, the country promotes stakeholder participation in decision-making regarding the implementation of a sustainable development policy. Finally, Germany anchored the principles of sustainable development in its constitution

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The side effects of economic depression

The automobile has long held a prominent place in Germany, which contrasted with the ecological awareness displayed in the country. But the economic recovery is still not forthcoming and Rüdiger Rosenthal observes a change in behavior among German consumers: "Until now, the philosophy of the biggest, faster and more luxurious has always won in Germany, which, d an ecological point, is unacceptable of course. With the current economic situation, consumers are paying attention to their energy consumption. This is the first time that there has been a drop in gasoline spending in Germany, people more willingly taking the bike or public transport "

According to the environmental activist, if the importance of ecological themes weakens in favor of economic and social issues, consumers are still aware of the relationship between their lifestyles and the problem of climate change. "Outside the economic context, this link allows a much better acceptance of the change of consumption mode", wants to believe Rüdiger Rosenthal.

Claire Stam

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