Record-breaking floods have devastated Western Europe, leaving at least 170 people dead and over 1,300 unaccounted for. This catastrophe will have long-lasting implications on European – and global – politics and policies, including an impact on the forthcoming German general elections in September, and the rollout of the EU radical energy policy package that was unveiled on July 14. This includes commitments to be the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.
The worst hit country, Germany, suffered the most casualties, with 143 confirmed dead and the toll still rising. North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate are the states which sustained the brunt of the damage, as floods swept away whole villages. The Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France were also affected. Intense rainfall over a very short period caused riverbanks to burst, inducing flash floods and mudslides on a scale not seen in the past 100 years. Parts of Germany received between 4 and 8 inches of rain in under 24 hours – in some cases triple the monthly average. While local officials were quick to respond, initial warnings by forecasters went unheeded in the days leading up to the deluge. Necessary evacuations never took place. PASSAU, GERMANY – JUNE 03: A general view of the flooded historic city center on June 3, 2013 in … [+] Passau, Germany. Heavy rains are pounding southern and eastern Germany, causing wide-spread flooding and ruining crops. At least two people are missing and feared dead in what is evolving into the most serious flood levels since the so-called 100-year flood of 2002. Portions of Austria and the Czech Republic are also inundated. (Photo by Lennart Preiss/Getty Images) Getty Images Speaking on the catastrophic events, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia (and the likely Christian Democrat Chancellor candidate in the September 2021 elections) Armin Laschet claimed the weather event was caused by global warming: “We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate production measures…because climate change isn’t defined to one state.” MORE FOR YOUQuestioning The Sustainability Of Biden’s Brave New Green WorldLeasing Ban Backfires On President BidenWhat’s Happening? Global Emissions Are Still Rising According to Hannah Cloke, professor of Hydrology at the University of Reading: “The fact that other parts of the northern hemisphere are currently suffering record-breaking heatwaves and fires should serve as a reminder of just how much more dangerous our weather could become in an ever-warmer world.” Scientists tell us that heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) is fueling more intense and more frequent extreme weather events. The floods’s timing will have possibly the decisive impact on acceptance of forthcoming EU climate strategies. EU officials recently unveiled a set of sweeping legislative proposals aimed towards carbon neutrality by 2050. The main tenets include taxes on jet fuel, making air travel much more costly, development of “green” aviation fuels, requirements for countries to swiftly renovate buildings not deemed energy efficient, and tighter emissions requirements for autos, ending the sale of new internal combustion and diesel vehicles by 2035. New environmental provisions face obstacles in being approved by the 27 states of the EU and European Parliament. However, the European commission remains confident that the plan will be adopted. Some have argued that the proposals don’t go far enough in addressing climate change, claiming that the enclosed provisions are set too low. Others, such as in Poland, fear devastating consequences for the country’s coal industry. The floods in Western Europe come watershed moment for climate agenda in the region. Upcoming elections in Germany are likely to be most affected by fallout from the environmental devastation, potentially reviving the Green Party movement. The Greens have struggled to compete with the surging Christliche Demokratische Union (CDU), the party of the outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, in recent months, falling 9.5 points behind the front in opinion polls. BERLIN, GERMANY – MAY 15: German Chancellor and Chairwoman of the German Christian Democrats Angela … [+] Merkel (C-L) and CDU lead candidate in yesterday’s state election in North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet (C-R) arrive for a meeting of the CDU governing board as CDU General Secretary Peter Tauber (L) and leading CDU member Volker Bouffier look on on May 15, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. The CDU came in first yesterday in North Rhine-Westphalia, ahead of the German Social Democrats (SPD), in what is a resounding victory for Merkel, as this is the third state election win for the CDU this year. The CDU victory now sets the German Social Democrats (SPD) in an awkward position, as they have been unable to turn the initial popular enthusiasm following the announcement in January that Martin Schulz would run for the SPD for chancellor in to concrete election wins. Germany faces federal elections in September. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) Getty Images Despite falling poll numbers, the Greens remain the party with the highest potential to challenge CDU for majority in the Bundestag. Running primarily on a platform of energy transition, climate protection, and gender equality, the party has outlined ambitious targets that aim for German climate neutrality, halting reliance on coal by 2030. In addition, overambitious party leaders have signaled their willingness to make short-haul flights superfluous and petrol vehicles obsolete in the next ten years. Perhaps most interesting about the Greens are their beliefs in addressing aggressive Russian and Chinese interference in European affairs. Analenna Baerbock, the designated candidate for Chancellor, remarked in April that the most important thing was “to increase pressure on Russia” after military buildups on its Eastern border with Ukraine. Later, she stated that “If the Chinese government requires Chinese corporations such as Huawei, for example, to pass on European data and information, we cannot integrate such manufacturers into European infrastructure.” Though Angela Merkel’s successors were expected to prevail in the September elections, the immediate and devastating nature of the recent flooding could drive swing voters towards the Greens. Destruction that has cost lives and billions of dollars in infrastructure damage will likely complement calls for immediate and radical changes to address climate change. This serves the Green party ambitions, as the other mainstream parties have not made climate a central issue of their campaigns. The impact of the flooding will certainly spur other established environmental movements and radicals throughout Europe to use the catastrophic events to call for far-reaching climate measures — including those that may impede growth and lower the living standard. The floods may prove to be a pivotal moment for the trajectory of European climate policy and further evolution of the Old Continent’s political direction for decades to come. With Assistance from Liam Taylor