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German chancellor accused of comparing climate activists to Nazis

Climate activists are accusing German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of comparing them to Nazis, something his spokesperson called “absurd.”

Scholz was interrupted by campaigners during a panel discussion at the German Catholic Convention on Friday as he mentioned the mining jobs lost in the country’s coal phaseout plans. Germany’s ruling coalition aims to end coal-fired power by 2030.

“I’ll be honest,” the chancellor responded, “these black-clad enactments at various events by always the same people remind me of a time that is, thank God, long gone.” Scholz then accused the activists of not wanting to engage in discussion but rather “manipulate” the event “for their own purposes.” 

As he didn’t elaborate, many activists and other commentators interpreted Scholz’s words as a reference to the Nazi era and black SS uniforms when a clip of the interaction went viral over the weekend.

“Scholz is comparing climate activists with Nazis,” wrote Luisa Neubauer, a prominent figure in the Fridays for Future movement. “The chancellor of the republic trivializes the Nazi regime and, paradoxically, the climate crisis too … That’s such a scandal.”

Erik Marquardt, a Green MEP, demanded an apology. “Chancellor Scholz does not have to like the civil disobedience of climate activism — but here he compares people who campaign for the climate with Nazis.”

German media speculated that Scholz could be referring to the far-left student movements of his youth, but his spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann repeatedly declined to elaborate when asked on Monday.

“The chancellor’s comments stand for themselves and I wouldn’t comment on that further,” she said, and added that comparing climate activists to Nazis would be “absurd.”

Activists also expressed concern that Scholz’s brusque rejection of the hecklers, which local media identified as members of the Last Generation group that campaigns for radical climate action, signaled that he wasn’t taking global warming seriously.

“Anyone who had hope that Scholz loosely understood the climate catastrophe now knows where he stands,” Neubauer wrote.

Scholz had mentioned the coal mining jobs as part of his response to a panel question unrelated to climate change, on whether societal division and radicalization posed a danger to Germany.

We have to do everything we can to make everyone feel recognized in our society,” he said, adding: “When we now organize our big energy transition … then the question is what we tell the mineworkers about their perspectives.” 

The activist interrupting him shouted “nonsense” and pointed out that the number of coal jobs — less than 20,000 — is much smaller than those lost in the renewables sector.

More than 100,000 renewables jobs were lost since 2011 as Germany’s domestic solar industry declined, according to official data.

Hoffmann said climate action remained a priority for the chancellor but said that interruptions of public appearances “prevent a fact-based discussion” and that such a discussion “is necessary for people who, for example, fear losing their jobs.”

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

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