Angela Merkel has a talent for sowing panic. Last year, the German Chancellor’s dithering transformed the Greek crisis into a systemic crisis in the Eurozone, with markets doubting her willingness to save the single currency. This time around, she has managed to transform the Japanese nuclear catastrophe, a local crisis – serious but nonetheless local – into a global nuclear energy crisis by deciding, on Monday 14 March, without consulting anyone, to suspend the application of a law to prolong the lifespan of Germany’s nuclear power stations beyond 2020, a law she herself had endorsed last year, to shut down seven out of 17 plants, and to launch a safety review.

She immediately triggered a tsunami in Europe, nuclear energy now being the focus of all suspicion, causing the most extreme embarrassment for her European partners. Belgium, by the way, has openly criticised her.

It has to be said that the German Chancellor’s reaction beggars belief: the Japanese accident did not happen because safety at the site was not seen to, as was the case for Chernobyl, but because of one of the most violent earthquakes in recorded history (9 on the Richter scale, which has 9 levels) followed by a tsunami. According to latest reports, seismic activity in Germany (and Europe), is limited, to say to least, without mentioning the risk of a tsunami in the Baltic...

Government according to the mood swings of German public opinion

That is not to say that there should be no debate on nuclear power, especially in France where this energy source was imposed without any democratic debate and where it continues to be subsidised (waste management not included in the price), but we should keep a sense of proportion. Quitting nuclear power will take time and must be done in an orderly way, making sure there are alternative energy sources, which is currently not the case.

The Chancellor, aware that she has blundered, is now backpedalling, explaining to the Bundestag that the immediate closure of German nuclear power plants is out of the question, because "for the moment we just cannot do without" nuclear energy...

To relish the irony of the situation, it should be remembered that Merkel is one of the European heads of state that has most fought environmental norms too restrictive for industry, particularly the car industry — to the point where she is still angry with Commission President José Manuel Durao Barroso, promotor ofa “climate” package. It’s clear that the effects produced by global warming will take place well after the next German election…

Once more, Angela Merkel has demonstrated that she governs with a wet finger held up to the wind, and according to the mood swings of German public opinion. Which is very reassuring for the future...