German Efforts to Shape European Renewable Energy Policy

© Springer-Verlag London 2015
Jale Tosun, Sophie Biesenbender and Kai Schulze (eds.)Energy Policy Making in the EULecture Notes in Energy2810.1007/978-1-4471-6645-0_9

9. German Efforts to Shape European Renewable Energy Policy

Robert Henry Cox  and Mariam Dekanozishvili 

Walker Institute for International and Area Studies, University of South Carolina, 817 Henderson Street, 251 Gambrell Hall, Columbia, SC 29208, USA

Department of Politics and Geography, Coastal Carolina University, 125 Chanticleer Drive West, Office 344, Conway, SC 29526, USA



Robert Henry Cox (Corresponding author)


Mariam Dekanozishvili


This chapter demonstrates how Germany strove to shape the European Union’s (EU) emerging policies on renewable energy. We argue that German decision-makers were motivated by three factors. First, they were influenced by a broad consensus in their own country about the desirability of renewable energy and believed the solutions that worked for Germany would also work for the entire EU. Second, Germany sought to protect the regulatory innovations it had developed by promoting those same regulations at the European level. Third, by establishing a European system that resembled its own, German decision-makers sought to give its own entrepreneurs in the renewable sector a competitive edge in the broader European market. We demonstrate this argument with a process tracing of the development of the 2009 Directive on Renewable Energy Sources (RES).

9.1 Introduction

Germany is a leader in the production of renewable energy and the development of renewable energy technologies. Consequently, when the EU began to develop a renewable energy policy for itself, Germany strove to shape the European agenda. This chapter shows how and why Germany took on this leadership role at the European level (see Ciambra and Solorio in Chap. 8 for an analysis of the British influence on the EU’s energy agenda). In terms of why, we argue that German officials saw the challenges facing Europe as similar to the ones they faced in their own country. They felt that the solutions they had successfully developed could just as successfully be deployed as responses across the EU. In addition, its earlier initiatives in promoting renewable energy had made Germany a world leader and it sought to preserve this leadership position.

Germany’s leadership in renewable energy has two dimensions. On the one hand, to promote renewable technologies, Germany adopted a number of regulatory innovations designed to protect and promote infant industries in the renewable sector. On the other hand, as these industries developed, they became leaders in technological innovation. German officials believed that by shaping the European agenda they would preserve both of these leadership roles. By encouraging the EU to adopt its regulatory innovations, Germany could create a European regime very much like its own. When it came time to comply with the new European system, the costs of compliance for Germany would be lower than the costs for other European countries. Furthermore, creating similar regulatory regimes across Europe would also give a competitive advantage to German producers of renewable technologies. Because these companies had already learned to operate under the German regulatory regime, a similar European regime would allow them to move faster in the wider European market for renewable energy.

In addition to these strategic concerns, German officials exploited a tactical window of opportunity to push their agenda. During the first half of 2007, Germany held the 6-month rotating Presidency of the EU. This provided a unique opportunity to advance the development of renewable energy, and German officials made good use of this opportunity. We show how this agenda shaping had profound influence on the EU’s Directive on Renewable Energy Sources (RES) adopted in 2009.

9.2 The Logic of German Agenda Shaping

Agenda shaping describes the ability of political actors to influence the salience of certain items or issues, introduce new issues on the agenda (agenda setting), put emphasis on some issues (agenda structuring) and ultimately influence the outcome of the policy decision. Whether those groups are key individuals who occupy important positions of power or well organised and influential groups, the emphasis is on the actions of those actors—their abilities to garner resources, gain access to key decision-makers, advance or block a discussion, mobilise supporters, etc. (see Tosun et al. in Chap. 1 for an assessment of the institutional and legal foundations of EU energy policy over time).

Much of the research on agenda shaping emphasises the strategic calculations made by policy makers who strive to control the agenda because doing so allows them to steer the final outcome in a favourable direction (Baumgartner and Jones 2009; Tallberg 2003). Some research on agenda setting focuses on the role of ideas in the process, they suggest that ideas are used by agenda setters to frame debates, to simplify complex relationships and to build linkages with other policy actors who share similar ideas (Liefferink and Andersen 1998). As this chapter shows, successful agenda shaping involves a combination of strategic interests and good ideas. What makes agenda shapers successful is not only their innate skills in pursuing their interests but also the broader context of normative frames, discourses and ideas that can provide a fertile ground for their policy preferences. Thus, to successfully promote their interests, policy makers need ideas. And to make their ideas compelling, they need to build upon or amplify broader societal values. Successful agenda shapers integrate their understandings of what is right and proper with what is strategically desirable.

The logic of German efforts to shape European policies on renewable energy is like a pattern that Ruggie (1982; see also Abdelal and Ruggie 2009) showed American officials following as they rebuilt the world economy after the Second World War. Ruggie called this new regime “embedded liberalism”, and he identified its main characteristics as a desire for free trade, currency stability and domestic capital controls. American officials were driven by two objectives. On the one hand, the American domestic economy was familiar and widely supported. It produced economic growth as well as a strong degree of social legitimacy. This led Americans to think of theirs as a normatively desirable model for other countries. In addition, building a global economy along American standards would give American multinational firms a competitive advantage in global markets. Because they already knew the regulatory environment of the American systems, American firms would enjoy lower learning costs in global markets if they confronted a regulatory system they had already learned to negotiate. Thus, a combination of normative ideas and pragmatic economic interests combined to create a preference in the minds of American officials.

Though the EU is smaller than the global economy, its institutional framework affords its member states a similar chance to shape transnational affairs in accordance with its domestic interests. Many of the larger states in the EU often seek to project their own domestic understandings of policy problems onto the European policy agenda (Kohler-Koch and Rittberger 2006). This has certainly been the case for Germany and the specific case of renewable energy but also more generally with regard to environmental protection (see, e.g. Knill and Lenschow 2001; Knill and Tosun 2011) and policies related to risk and uncertainty (see, e.g. Löfstedt 2004; Tosun 2013). As renewable energy became an important topic in the European policy discussions, German leaders endeavoured to make the emerging European policy regime resemble the German one. Germany as a forerunner in renewable energy, with a well-developed regulatory framework ahead of others in the EU, sought to prepare the ground for other member states to follow. Germany’s effort to shape the European agenda was driven by a combination of both ‘norm entrepreneurship’ based on the logic of appropriateness and rational strategising based on logic of consequences (March and Olsen 1998). These efforts have not been without resistance (see Jacobs in Chap. 6 for an illustration of the Commission’s resistance against the German feed-in law of 1990).

Norm entrepreneurship centred on a rising concern about climate change, and an ambition to be a global promoter of the “right norm”. In addition, German officials understood climate change to be a transnational issue that cannot be solved by unilateral measures. Moreover, these officials also believed that German norms, principles and solutions were right and appropriate for a common European response to climate change. In that respect, the concept of ecological modernisation (Ökologische Modernisierung) was widely accepted as a norm among policy makers in Germany. The idea is that stringent environmental measures can help to modernise the economy because ecological modernisation demands the development of new technologies and industrial practices. An additional benefit is that these technologies can be exported to other markets.

Ecological modernisation also embraced other principles that have been widely accepted in Germany. Climate protection was another norm that German officials felt was equally appropriate for the EU. The norm appeared equally acceptable for the risk-averse German society in which the precautionary principle was already well ingrained. In addition, climate protection can be envisaged as one of those post-materialistic values, which according to Inglehart (1985) gets embraced by affluent liberal democracies, such as Germany (see Ciambra and Solorio in Chap. 8). So, the concept of ecological modernisation became widely accepted as a macro political norm in Germany, especially after a Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Green Party coalition came to government in 1998 (Jänicke 2011). Economic growth and environmental protection were increasingly regarded as parallel achievable goals and the Best Available Technology (BAT) principle became the guiding principle for Germany’s eco-industrial policy (ökologische Industriepolitik), which featured in Germany’s pragmatic considerations and underlined German “norm entrepreneurship” to support renewable energy at the EU level (but see Fuchs in Chap. 11 for an opposite assessment).

A second, well-recognised motivation for member states to strive to control the development of an EU policy, is to expand the market for their own industry. As Héritier et al. (1996) state, high-regulating states may have an interest in expanding technology markets for their own industry. Because Germany had a well-developed regulatory framework nationally based on feed-in tariff (FIT) system that encouraged industry to develop renewable energy technologies, German introduction of ambitious energy/climate targets into EU legislation would create additional demand for such technology and provide excellent opportunity for Germany’s export-oriented industry. Renewable energy represents a shift to knowledge-based high tech and is in line with Germany’s post-industrial transition. Ambitious CO2 targets have been a driving force for innovation and technology diffusion and regarded necessary for retaining Germany’s technological leadership in innovation and for supporting Germany’s export-oriented renewables industry. In that regard, the EU’s goals for reducing carbon dioxide levels and binding renewable energy targets were considered important to create even higher European demand for renewable technology.

A third motivation for member states to control the EU agenda is to guide the EU to adopt regulations that are similar to those already in place at home. This process of “uploading” one’s domestic regime allows member states to minimise the costs of implementing EU policies (Börzel 2002, p. 194; see Ciambra and Solorio Chap. 8). As member states have distinct institutions, they compete at the EU level for policies that conform to their own interests and approaches (Héritier et al. 1996). EU policy making opens opportunities to upload national standards, measures and solutions to the European level to ensure that no administrative and implementation costs are incurred when it comes time to comply with the new European rules (Knill and Lenschow 2001). German leadership was inspired by the desire to export its own national standards and/or preferred national problem-solving philosophies to reduce regulatory adjustment costs. Germany actively pursued gatekeeping to avoid the adoption of undesirable policies and measures at the EU level that would have been economically or politically costly to comply with. ‘Uploading’ is an effective strategy to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs of European policies and reduces the need for legal and administrative adaptation in subsequent ‘downloading’. The more a European policy fits the domestic context, the lower the adaptation costs in the implementation process (see Börzel 2002).

A fourth rationale for German efforts to influence the EU agenda was to strengthen its leadership role in global climate change negotiations. Helping to create a unified European position would enable Germany to shape transnational affairs in accordance with its domestic interests and accepted norms—and to project European understanding of policy problems onto the global level. Due to its economic strength and booming climate mitigation technologies, Germany has become a “trend-setter” in international climate change politics (Jänicke 2008) and overachieved Kyoto targets by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 21.3 %. Coupled with its leadership in renewable technology exports, ambitious and unified EU targets would give Germany a stronger position to become a “trend-setter” in international climate politics and exert more influence on other players (e.g. US and China) in upcoming climate change negotiations. As the Kyoto commitment period approached and reaching a post-Kyoto agreement featured increasingly on the global agenda, feelings of urgency began to surface. By fostering a more unified European position that also reflected German domestic concerns, Germany sought to strengthen its global influence.

Finally, another reason German officials push issues at the European level is to enhance their legitimacy at home by pushing popular issues on the EU agenda or by using the EU as a scapegoat against domestic obstacles. Entrepreneurs may effectively use international institutional features to strengthen their arguments in domestic debates (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998, p. 893). Vertical venue shopping is a way to circumvent domestic backlashes against ambitious climate policy measures. Vertical venue shopping from the member state to the EU level is a classic way in which issues reach the EU agenda (Princen 2011).

Uploading may enable national governments to address problems which preoccupy their constituencies but can no longer be dealt with effectively at the domestic level due to inter-ministerial wrangling and turf battles between different state agencies or interest groups. Thus, the EU served as a venue not only to diffuse German standards and regulations at the EU level to embed others but also to reinforce and legitimate solutions that were subject to dispute domestically.

To summarise our argument, German motives for promoting renewable energy at the EU level were based on mutually reinforcing logic of appropriateness and logic of consequences, in other words: on a self-interested norm entrepreneurship due to an intimate connection between norms and rationality (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998). Promoting renewable energy was precisely the case in which Germany pursued environmental as well as economic rationales. All norm promoters at the international level need some kind of organisational platform through which to channel influence. The rotating EU Council Presidency provided such a platform for Germany’s agenda-shaping efforts, as we demonstrate in the following section.

9.3 Germany’s Agenda-Shaping Efforts: Renewable Energy Sources Directive of 2009

The EU renewable energy policy is governed by the 2009 European Commission (2009), which was adopted as a part of the EU’s so-called climate-energy package. The Renewable Energy (RES) directive outlines the policy framework for increasing the share of renewable energy in the energy consumption of the EU to 20 % by 2020. The Commission suggested this target in the Renewable Energy Roadmap (COM 2006a, p. 848 final). The European Council meeting held in the spring of 2007 endorsed the target (Council of EU 2007). Several months later in January 2008, the Commission presented the proposal for a new directive. After 11 months of negotiations, the final agreement on the directive was reached in December 2008.

The most important and innovative element of the directive was the binding nature of the 20 % target. This new legislation replaced the previous directive 2001/77/EC (the RES-E directive), which entailed a goal to achieve 21 % of the EU’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010. It set out individual differentiated targets for each EU member state. However, they were of indicative non-binding nature. Only few member states (Germany, Denmark and Hungary) met their specific targets before 2007, and the EU was still short of the 21 % target (COM 2006b, p. 849 final).

Though most countries failed to meet their targets, Germany had already overfulfilled its target by 2007. Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), which was modified in 2004, set ambitious targets to increase the percentage of renewable energy sources in Germany’s power supply to at least 12.5 % by 2010 and to at least 20 % by 2020 (EEG 2004). Because of their own ambitious achievements, German officials felt they should push the EU to be more ambitious as well. “It was necessary to address RES and CO 2 obligations at the EU level to have a strong and unified voice in the upcoming climate change negotiations of the post-Kyoto regime. Chancellor Merkel decided to put RES binding targets on the EU agenda and push forward the 20/20/20 initiative. Holding the Council Presidency in the first half of 2007 provided an important institutional platform for Germany to push the binding RES target” (Interview 2013a: Representative of German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology).

9.4 German Presidency and Binding Targets for Renewable Energy

9.4.1 German Presidency and Its Priorities

Germany made EU energy policy a top priority and a special focus during its EU presidency in 2007. Climate change has been one of the pronounced priorities of the German EU Presidency, which tied in nicely with Germany’s simultaneous presidency of the G8 leaders in 2007 (Barysch 2007). The timing of Germany’s rotation on the Council Presidency in the first half of 2007 also coincided with a fortuitous institutional reform. Germany was the first member state to preside over the newly instituted Trio Presidency that was introduced to ensure more continuity for political initiatives. The Trio Presidency consisted of three countries which developed a common programme for their 18 months serving successive rotations as Council President.

Thus, when Germany assumed the first trimester of its Presidency with Portugal and Slovenia, it established an agenda that lasted for 18 months. Moreover, the timing of the rotating Council Presidency seemed to leave Germany a peerless leader in Europe as Britain’s powerful leader, Tony Blair, was leaving office and France was scheduled to hold presidential elections in the Spring of 2007 (Barysch 2007

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