The soft power concept of Germany’s energy foreign policy

Building on its reputation as an energy transition frontrunner, Germany is currently pursuing a soft power strategy aimed at winning over foreign countries to its policy approaches in the energy sector. According to a new analysis, the so-called Energiewende is the central foundation or “soft power” resource of this strategy.

International agreements on climate protection require a rapid reduction in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Government support for renewable energy has seen costs fall sharply over the past two decades, making electricity from wind and solar installations competitive with coal and nuclear-generated energy.

This development has also resulted in a shift in foreign energy policy in which traditional approaches to securing fossil-based energy resources have been augmented by efforts to foster the uptake of climate-friendly technologies and solutions.

As an international pioneer of renewable energies and an important industrialized country, Germany has emerged as a key player in this new field of foreign energy policy. A new study by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has now analysed Germany’s bilateral energy partnerships.

A German energy transition narrative emerges

IASS researchers Rainer Quitzow and Sonja Thielges describe the so-called Energiewende as the central foundation or “soft power” resource of this strategy and show how the growing domestic consensus on the German energy transition’s reflected in the country’s foreign energy policy, according to a statement.

The energy transition in Germany unfolded over a period of more than thirty years. Rooted in the experiences of the oil crisis in the 1970s and the anti-nuclear movement, a cross-party consensus in favour of renewable energy generation emerged by 2010. In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the German government made the decision to phase out nuclear power and place the Energiewende concept at the centre of German energy policy, writes the statement.

Domestic policy goes global

The first energy partnerships, focused on renewable energies and energy efficiency, were launched with India and China in 2006. Similar partnerships were established in the following years with Brazil, Morocco, Tunisia and South Africa, among others.

In addition to these partnerships led by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), the Federal Foreign Office (AA) also maintains various partnerships, such as the German-Nigerian Energy Partnership. “Today, these partnerships lie at the heart of Germany’s ‘soft power’ strategy,” says author Sonja Thielges, senior research associate at the IASS Research Group on Pathways to Sustainable Energy.

Positive perceptions of the energy transition serve as a basis – or “soft power resource” as the authors note – for high-level political dialogue within the framework of the energy partnerships.

Key features of the soft power strategy

Key features of this soft power strategy are the combination of communication and political dialogue on the one hand and capacity-building and learning on the other.

“The latter bolsters the credibility of political communication and increases the partners’ ability to pursue an energy policy based on the German model, which promotes renewables and energy efficiency”, says Rainer Quitzow.

In addition, the institutional character and duration of partnerships builds trust, which helps to strengthen other activities. In the case of South Africa, for example, the energy partnership has raised awareness of issues relating to energy transitions among state actors, according to the authors. At the same time, the political dialogue provides a forum for identifying topics that could be addressed in workshops and study visits.

The energy partnerships also have the potential to provide a framework for the inter-ministerial coordination of international energy transition policy within partner countries, write the authors. However, operating under the umbrella of the BMWi and/or AA, the partnerships are not mandated to assume this function. As a result, the federal ministries frequently pursue parallel activities relevant to the energy sector without active coordination.

Image credit: Bernd Scheumann via Pixabay

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