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Between dead end and energy transition:
A social-ecological multilevel analysis of transnational biofuel policy

Module one: Case Study Germany & EU - Interdependencies between German and EU Biofuels Policy

German biofuels policy has taken a rather turbulent course in recent years. Boosted mainly by the interests in new markets for domestic agricultural commodities, the introduction of a comprehensive tax exemption for the supposedly environmentally friendly biofuels was relatively uncontroversial in the early 2000s. In addition, this was considered an effective measure regarding the transformation of the transport energy system towards a more decentralized and more sustainable energy supply structure. The “biofuel boom” in Germany, however, was slowed down by the gradual replacement of the tax exemption by a mandatory quota system in mid-2006. This paradigm shift thus occurred already before the onset of the severe criticism concerning the environmental and social performance of biofuels, which began in 2007. The policy change, however, entailed a considerable change in the constellation of actors in the biofuels policy domain, since, in the wake of the introduction of the quota system, the petroleum industry became the major source of demand in this sector formerly dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises. As this demand is met largely by imports, an intensive discussion on the related socio-ecological problems arose. Likewise at the EU level, the debate on the sense and senselessness of promoting biofuels and ambitious expansion targets has led to substantial controversy since 2007. As a result, EU biofuels policy also underwent significant changes recently, which in turn are reflected in German biofuel policy.

The goal of this module concerns the identification of the key movers as well as the central conflict and actor constellations behind German biofuels policy and their impact on policy change; in this regard, particularly the interactions with the EU and international level are involved. The overarching research question in this context focuses on the coalitions between public and private actors and their ability to influence policy decisions and to shape the discourse according to their own interests. Here, particular emphasis will be placed on the environmental and economic arguments and their strategic use in the policy process. The latter will furthermore be evaluated separately in the context of a regional economic analysis. These aspects will be investigated within the framework of a multilevel policy analysis, which draws on the concept of the advocacy coalition framework and on the discourse coalitions approach as well as on findings from research on interest mediation and multi-level governance, with a view to developing a comprehensive and differentiated picture of German biofuels policy.