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Who with Whom in Biofuel Policy? Coalitions in the Media Discourse on Liquid Biofuels in Germany.

Politically driven, Germany's biofuel sector has developed extremely fast in the last two decades. This development was favoured by a very successful presence of the beneficiaries of that support policy--namely, the biofuel industry, German farmers and the agribusiness--in the media.

Who with Whom in Biofuel Policy? Coalitions in the Media Discourse on Liquid Biofuels in Germany GAIA 27/2 (2018): 235-244

For two decades, the production of biomass fuel has strongly in creased worldwide and is predicted to further increase by 2.7 percent per year through 2040 (EIA 2016). This trend continues to be encouraged by political support measures for biofuels by the EU and its member states (Deppermann et al. 2016). The need for such support instruments is predominantly explained with the aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase energy security, although scientific advisory councils have rejected biomass fuels--especially first-generation biofuels--for several years due to their limited emission-saving potential and relatively high CO2 abatement costs as well as potential food versus fuel competition (cf. WBA 2008, WBGU 2008). Particularly, the discussion on indirect land-use changes caused by an increasing global demand for biomass--once introduced by Searchinger et al. (2008)--has led to doubts within the scientific community about biofuels being per se more climate-friendly than fossil fuels. In contrast, third-generation biofuels--mainly produced from microbes and microalgae--are viewed as more sustainable. However, they cannot be produced economically on a large scale in a fore seeable time, if at all.

On EU level, the development of the biofuel sector was triggered by the Common Agricultural Policy reform in 1992 that introduced set-aside quotas to reduce production surpluses. To receive arable area payments, farmers were obliged to convert agricultural area into set-aside area. However, the cultivation of crops for nonfood purposes was allowed on those set-aside areas without ceasing of EU payments. Thus, agricultural production was politically directed to alternative uses such as biomass for fuel production. Among the EU members, Germany took on a pioneering role in the promotion of biomass fuels (Kaup and Selbmann 2013). In the last two decades, the national government has implemented several supporting instruments including blending mandates but also tax exemptions and reductions and other fiscal measures. Until 2004, only fossil fuels were amenable to the German Mineral Oil Tax Law (MinoStg) of 1992 and thus, pure biofuels were exempted from taxation. Although biofuels became subject of the Mineral Oil Tax Law with its amendment in 2004, they were given a tax reduction--primarily a tax exemption--until the end of 2009 by the red-green government coalition. According to Frondel and Peters (2006), the tax incentives for biodiesel were the highest among EU member states and resulted in significant tax losses. Due to this tax privilege and the call for renewable fuels, the biofuel share in final energy consumption in the German transport sector increased drastically from 1.9 percent in 2004 to 7.5 percent in 2007 (figure 1). With the takeover of the grand coalition (Christian Democratic Parties, CDU/CSU, and Social-Democratic Party, SPD) in 2005, the government started to plan a realignment of the national biofuel supporting scheme. To reduce tax loss, the tax exemption for biofuels was abolished with the Energy Tax Law (EnergieStG) in 2006. Instead, a mandatory blending - that came into force under the Biofuel Quota Act (BioKraftQuG) in 2007--was introduced to safeguard a further advancement of the sector. Consequently, the market share of blended biofuels increased, while pure biofuels lost in significance.

By establishing this broad governmental supporting framework, Germany has become the leading producer of biofuels in the EU and is among the top three producers worldwide (BP 2016). Additionally, the domestic biofuel sector developed relatively fast compared to other states in the EU (figure 1; Guenther-Lubbers et al. 2014). Hence, it is particularly interesting to take a historical view on the influence of organized interests on the German media debate from a point in time when the sector was still in its very infancy to a point at which it prospered. We selected the investigation period from 1995 to 2012. By focusing on this sample period, the study aims to examine the discursive environment that allowed Germany in the first instance to become a significant player within the global biofuel market. Our analysis concentrates on liquid biofuels (mainly biodiesel, bioethanol, plant oil) as these are by far the most significant biofuel types in Germany. (1) The key research question we seek to answer is why some actors managed to dominate the discourse on biofuels.

To be heard in the public, and thus, to influence the policy process, interest groups especially rely on interest intermediation via mass media. By conducting a media discourse analysis of the national biofuel debate, we analyze the framing to demonstrate in which dimensions the different actors perceived biofuels. Based on the diverse framing and positioning of the actors, we then investigate which actors shared the same story lines and thus acted as members of common discourse coalitions.

Theoretical Framework

Media Discourse Analysis

Following an argumentative discourse-analytic approach, this article conceptualizes a discourse as originating within social contexts and being shaped by various stakeholders. A discourse is described as a "specific ensemble of ideas, concepts and categorizations that is produced, reproduced and transformed in a particular set of practices and through which meaning is given to physical and social realities" (Hajer 1995, p. 44). A discourse analysis is thus a suitable tool to examine why a specific view on a policy problem is dominating, while other perspectives are discredited.

Within contemporary democratic societies, media discourses play a crucial role especially in mediating information to the public. Being aware of the media's power in terms of constructing and interpreting social reality, various actors seek to influence the news coverage in public media, especially in mass media. Political decision-makers tend to follow dominant opinions on issues that may be electorally relevant to safeguard their re-election. Thus, the media discourse's impact on decision-makers is rather of indirect nature: in a first step, media are supposed to influence the opinion of voters that, in a second step, may affect the decisions of policy-makers (Ferree et al. 2002). Certainly, interest groups may fail to manage that their interpretations on a specific issue dominate the public discourse but successfully assert their inter ests in the policy process by other means, for example, by person al communication with public officials. However, doing well in the mass media discourse strengthens the own political as sertiveness.

If an actor manages to have a voice in the media, it can not only position itself on an issue but also mediate different contents and perspectives. To this end, the actor resorts to so-called media frames. A frame is "a central organizing idea [... ] that provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events [...] The frame suggests what the controversy is about, the essence of the issue" (Gamson and Modigliani 1987, p. 143). Thus, a media frame defines how the public recognizes a problem (Entman 1993). Frames do not equal positions in favour or against some policy issue. Instead, a media frame includes different evaluations and positions enabling a discursive struggle among those who share a common frame (Gamson and Modigliani 1987). On the basis that public discourses can be seen as a competition for a dominant framing (Gerhards and Schafer 2006), some actors will manage to establish their frames on the issue as the dominant ones in the debate while others will be less successful in doing so. Accordingly, success in the media can be measured by detecting the frequency with which actors manage to present their frames to the public. It is necessary therefore to investigate what is the dominant frame in the debate and which actors use it?

Several studies have examined biofuel-related discourses in Germany, focusing on different issues. Talamini et al. (2013) compared the framing of liquid biofuels between the scientific, media and political discourse in Germany, whereas Vogelpohl (2014) focused only on the political discourse. Similar to our study, Kaup and Selbmann (2013) identified discourse coalitions within the public-political debate on biofuels. However, they investigated neither the framing of the discourse nor the success of each discourse coalition by means of explicit criteria such as coalition size or frame bundles used. The media analysis of Herbes et al. (2014) and the study by Linhart and Dhungel (2013) both address biogas and analyse the public perception of increased corn production for electricity and heating purposes, but they none the less offer valuable insights into issues that are relevant for the biofuel debate, for example, competition for land either to produce energy or food. Similarly, Zschache et al. (2010) investigate the discourse on bioenergy in which biofuels are one aspect among others.

To date, there is no pure print media discourse study with a focus on the German biofuel debate. While most of the above-mentioned works focus on the framing of the discourse itself, our article aims at the grouping of various actors based on their diverse framing and positioning. Only Kaup and Selbmann (2013) as well as Herbes et al. (2014) build their analyses--like we do--upon Hajer's discourse coalition approach. In contrast to Talamini et al. (2013) who look at entire documents, we used single statements as units of analysis thereby allowing for a more complex framing and positioning. Additionally, the relatively long investigation period that enables us to draw conclusions on discursive shifts in terms of framing and standing of actors, is what makes this study distinct.

Discourse Coalitions

For analysing discourses and policy-making in the environmental policy domain, one of the most commonly used theoretical approaches is the concept of discourse coalitions by Hajer (1993, 1995). Following Hajer's argumentative discourse analysis, we postulate that the policy process can be understood as a competition over discursive hegemony between discourse coalitions and that some coalitions are more successful than others in reaching this aim. Discourse coalitions are groups of actors that position themselves close to each other by sharing a set of common story lines on a specific political problem (Hajer 1995). The network between actors within a coalition is rather loose and informal (Cotton et al. 2014) meaning that there is no need for members to develop common strategies or statements or to coordinate their activities at all (Hajer 1993,1995). However, through common story lines the actors share a similar interpretation on a specific policy issue even though they might follow different underlying interests and motivations (Cotton et al. 2014, Hajer 1995). Such a story line is defined as a "narrative that allows actors to draw upon various discursive categories to give meaning to specific physical or social phenomena" (Hajer 1995, p. 56).

Hajer's discourse coalition approach (DCA) clearly needs to be differentiated from the advocacy coalition framework (ACF) by Sabatier (1988). While the members of an advocacy coalition share a set of basic policy beliefs, the actors within a discourse coalition are bound by story lines that interpret policy problems in precise social contexts (Fischer 2003). Moreover, the ACF's central premise states that coalition members need to engage to some extent in coordinated purposive activities, whereas within the DCA actors can "reproduce or fight a given bias without necessarily orchestrating or coordinating their actions" (Hajer 1993, p. 48). In this way, the DCA broadens the purpose of actor coalitions to cases of "strange bedfellows" in which the coalition members might mistrust one another and there might be no communication at all on common positions (Szarka 2004), (2) still their separate actions support a specific set of story lines in a policy domain (Hajer 1995).

Due to the cross-sectoral nature of the biofuel policy domain, the discursive engagement of various actors from different policy areas can be presumed. This specific feature of the policy issue at hand especially calls for the utilization of the DCA because it allows for identifying broad and flexible actor coalitions that go beyond single policy areas. To detect the dominant discourse coalitions, the study focuses on three indicators of discourse coalition success:

Firstly, the size of a coalition serves as a suitable indicator as a dominant coalition receives advocacy by a large number of discourse participants (Leifeld and Haunss 2012). The pivotal factor here is the number of advocates of a coalition in relation to its opposing coalitions. The study is interested in clarifying: who forms a coalition with whom and which discourse coalitions managed to attract a larger number of advocates than others?

Beside the size, the variety of frames used by a discourse coalition can serve as an indicator for its success. According to Snow and Benford (1988), a discourse coalition that relies on a too narrow bundle of frames is supposed to be rather unsuccessful. A successful discourse coalition rather deals with a set of diverse arguments in a wide, but still incorporated manner, than using a limited range of arguments again and again. Therefore, we address the question: are the sets of frames used by each discourse coalition rather limited or relatively broad?

Thirdly, literature on discourse coalitions states that success is correlated to the domination of the core (most significant) frame(s) and position(s) within a debate (Leifeld and Haunss 2012). This seems comprehensible insofar as a coalition turns out to be successful if it manages "to impose their views of reality on others" (Hajer 1993, p. 45). Hence we ask: which coalitions construct and draw upon the core frame and position dominating the debate on biofuels?

Material and Methods

The analysis of the public discourse is based on the five national quality dailies with the largest circulation in Germany: Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Die Welt, Handelsblatt and Die Tageszeitung (taz) (IVW 2013). These broadsheets were selected because they are read on a regular basis by German policy-makers and journalists (Schneider and Ollmann 2013), thereby influencing agenda-setting and decision-making processes. Moreover, the daily newspapers cover the core political spectrum of German politics ranging from socialistic orientation (taz), over social-liberal (SZ) and liberal profiles (Handelsblatt), to being rather conservative (Die Welt and FAZ).

In the newspapers' digital online archives, we browsed all articles from 1995 to 2012 for one of different keywords (box 1), inclusive of their grammatical variants. (3) With this search, 2,160 articles were detected of which we selected 303 random samples following Strauss and Corbin's (2015) principle of a "theoretical saturation." Accordingly, after analyzing 303 articles we reached a point where more samples would bring no further insights and thus completed the sampling procedure. Based on these samples that cover all five newspapers and the complete investigation period, we identified the participating actors, their positioning and the discourses frames using the qualitative data analysis software MAXQDA. (4) As we are interested in the identification of extra-medial actors that have a "voice in media" (Ferree et al. 2002, p. 86), medial actors as well as object actors (5) were excluded.

In total, 1,787 statements were coded and categorized into frames in a way that statements with similar content belong to a common frame, for example, statements on biofuels in terms of its environmental impacts were grouped under the same frame. (6) An inter-coder reliability test during the early phases of coding showed a relatively high consistency. Additionally, the actors' standing (relative frequency of media appearance) and each frame's significance were determined.

We identified groups of actors that not only position themselves in the same way on biofuels but also use a similar set of frames. (7) Such a group of actors shares a similar interpretation of the biofuel issue and thereby forms a discourse coalition.


Frames in the Biofuel Debate

The public debate on biofuels is characterized by a variety of interpretations, which we categorized into eight different frames. Table 1 presents an overview of the constructed frames and their most relevant sub-themes, sorted by the number of statements in descending order. It also shows the relative frequency with which each sub-theme was used to argue pro, neutral or contra on biofuels. Thus, it is possible to draw conclusions on which issues were most important in terms of positive or negative news coverage.

Overall, biomass fuels were predominantly perceived within an economic dimension, for example, as economic driver for the agricultural sector or as reason for higher consumer prices at petrol stations. Thus, the frame economic implications and opportunities forms the core frame within the debate. In most cases, this frame covers biofuels positively. Biofuels were also often recognized as an issue of environmental and climate protection. Within the frame political measures, biofuels were related to governmental interventions on national, international or EU level. How ever, this frame also includes more general statements that do not focus on specific interventions. Furthermore, liquid biofuels were discussed in terms of technological aspects, grouped under the frame technology and research. Within the frame social responsibility, biofuels were perceived in their role for society. Especially important therein was the discussion on food versus fuel in which biofuels were evaluated mainly negatively. We also grouped statements on the aesthetics connected to the cultivation of biofuels' raw materials under this frame as this issue is related to the societal well-being. Therein, biofuels were mainly positively assessed. For instance, a rapeseed field was described as a "yellow sea of flowers". Biofuels were, moreover, framed as a policy issue that asks for clear differentiation between diverse types (need to distinguish between biofuels). Fuels from biomass were also discussed in their role for securing sufficient fuel supply in the future. Finally, within the frame public perception of biofuels, fuels from biomass were perceived as an issue of social acceptance.

Actors and Discursive Shifts over Time

The debate on biofuels is mainly shaped by economic actors, with about 37 percent of all statements made by them. Most represented among this group of actors are business associations like the German Farmers' Association (Deutscher Bauernverband, DBV) or the Union for the Promotion of Oil and Protein Plants. Political actors (e.g., representatives of political parties and ministries) also showed a relatively high standing in the debate with about 26 percent. In contrast, scientific representatives and civil societal actors have a very limited voice in media.

Analyzing the relative frequencies of the frames used over time (figure 2), we found that the relevance of the frames social responsibility, need to distinguish between biofuels and public perception of biofuels has slightly increased while issues of economic implications and opportunities of biofuels have significantly lost relevance since 2007. This is correlated to another finding of this discourse analysis: the constellation of the discourse participants has changed over time (figure 3).

From the mid-1990s until the early 2000s, the media debate on biofuels was predominantly shaped by political and economic actors that especially highlighted the potential of biofuels to mitigate climate change as well as its economic potential for the agricultural sector and the entire German economy. This view was accompanied by the predominant opinion that governmental interventions are needed to support a green infant industry. Thus, the given tax exemptions for biofuels during that time were mainly backed up by the media coverage. However, political actors became aware that the support measure resulted in a large tax loss, which is why the debate in 2005 was mainly about how biofuel policy should be realigned. From then onwards, the biofuel issue received higher media attention (see Puttkammer and Grethe 2015 for a detailed analysis of the less and more intense phases of the debate).

With the publication of studies by scientists and NGOs that started to question the positive environmental and social impacts of biofuels (e.g., Searchinger et al. 2008), as well as the so-called food crisis, the years between 2006/2007 and 2008/2009 marked a significant turnaround in the discourse. More and more civil-societal actors entered the debate, mainly blaming biofuel production for high food prices and land-use changes, which resulted in a diminishing public acceptance for biofuels. The critical discussions led to the implementation of mandatory sustainability criteria for biofuels under theGerman BiofuelSustainabilityOrdinance( Biokraft-NachV) in 2009. The fact that the positive public image of biofuels began to weaken became a problem especially for the German petroleum industry, facing the mandatory biofuel blending from 2007 on, as consumers refused to buy the blended fuels. Consumers' skepticism was fostered by the fear that the blended fuels might damage car engines, a discussion stimulated by the automobile club ADAC in 2008. This discussion is the main reason why the frame technology and research shows a share of about 30 percent in 2008. The negative image of biofuels remained a topic of discussion in the following years (increasing significance of the frame public perception of biofuels from 2008 on) and was heatedly debated especially in 2011, the year of the launch of E10 at German petrol stations. Although the petroleum industry was facing sales problems for E10 especially in the following months, the product remained and is still available at German petrol stations.

Coalitions on Biomass Fuels

The participating actors of the discourse can be divided into nine different discourse coalitions that were investigated by their characteristics (table 2, p. 242).

Environmentalists Contra

With 16 actors, the coalition environmentalists contra is relatively broad in terms of numbers. All actors are biofuel opponents arguing mainly on environmental impacts of biofuels. Accordingly, actors of this coalition deny a positive climate balance of biofuels and blame them for deforestation and monocultures. A quarter of these actors are environmental NGOs. Also, largely represented are scientific actors like the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg (ifeu). Particularly noteworthy is that the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) as well as the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) are part of this coalition. These two actors are responsible for giving policy advice to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).

Technologically Oriented Contra

As with the coalition environmentalists contra, an alliance between actors of the coalition technologically oriented contra is comprehensible. For example, collaboration between Bosch and BMW does not seem odd as BMW decided to focus its research on hydrogen fuel cells instead of biofuels and Bosch advised consumers to be cautious with using biofuels as it can lead to damages in the engine. In general, all actors of this coalition use only statements of the technology and research frame and none of them view biofuels in a positive light. Referring to the variety of arguments used, this is a very narrow discourse coalition.

Socially Oriented Contra

A third group of opponents is represented by the coalition socially oriented contra consisting of actors with interest in social responsibility and development. This includes charity organizations, research institutions with a focus on development issues and political institutions encouraging economic development. The Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) is also part of the coalition, mainly because this party held the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) from 2009 to 2013. Biofuels have been heavily scrutinized in the media during this time especially considering the food-versus-fuel debate and land-use conversions. Thus, it is plausible that FDP representatives emphasized development concerns regarding biofuels.

Politically Oriented Ambivalent

The politically oriented ambivalent coalition is comprised of very different actors such as the German Association of the Oil Crushing Industry (OVID) and the charity organization Oxfam. As such it represents a rather unusual coalition since the positioning of the single actors varies over time. Common to these actors is that their statements can almost exclusively be grouped into the political measures frame.

Economically and Public-Image Oriented Ambivalent

Comprising only three actors, the coalition economically and public-image oriented ambivalent forms the smallest discourse coalition. Such a small number of coalition members indicates that these actors were relatively isolated in the discourse, thus representing a relatively weak coalition. One of the actors is the automobile club ADAC, which mainly rejected biofuel support due to increasing consumer prices for fuel. The other actors are BP and the Association of the German Petroleum Industry (MWV), in which BP is a member. These actors of the petroleum industry changed their positioning on biofuels. Whereas they had opposed biofuels for years, they started promoting biofuels after the blending quota came into force in 2007.

Differentiation Oriented Pro

The coalition differentiation oriented pro can be identified as a set of biofuel advocates, including scientific institutes with focus on biomass and agricultural research as well as actors of the biofuel industry. They stand out of the other actor groups as they specifically highlight the need to differentiate in the discussion between different generations of biofuels and between bioethanol and biodiesel. However, the set of arguments used is very limited.

Economically Oriented Pro

Another set of biofuel supporters is formed by the coalition economically oriented pro which consists of three companies of the biofuel industry, two actors of the finance sector, a research institution and a consumer protection organization specialized in cars and road transport. Common to them is that their statements entirely focus on positive economic implications of biofuels. Both the biofuel companies and the financial actors highlight the market potential of biofuels and advertise the sector as a new investment area.

Broadly Oriented Pro

Like the economically oriented pro coalition, the broadly oriented pro coalition comprises mainly supporters of biofuels, but these actors use a broader variety of arguments compared to the economically oriented pro coalition. Besides economic aspects, they consider environmental issues as well as future fuel supply. Within the coalition, we mainly find economic (e.g., actors of the biofuel industry) and political actors (e.g., Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture). The appearance of most actors in this group is consistent. For instance, it seems plausible that the DBV forms a discourse coalition with companies of the agribusiness and the biofuel sector as these actors are the major beneficiaries of an increasing demand for biofuels. Additionally, two actors of the auto mobile industry, VWand Daimler, as well as the petroleum company Shell are part of the coalition. Relationships between some of the members of the coalition are characterized by a high level of communication. One example for a common media-effective communication strategy within that coalition is the research partnership of VW, Daimler and Shell on the development of "sun diesel", a synthetic fuel made from biomass. That the EU Commission is another member of this biofuel supporting coalition is clearly in line with the persistent biofuel support on EU level. Also, we can find two political parties in the coalition: CDU/CSU and the Green Party (Bundnis 90/Die Grunen). Traditionally, the CDU/CSU closely represent the DBV's positions.However, it requires an explanation that Bundnis 90/Die Grunen is part of the same coalition as this party usually holds positions different to CDU/CSU and DBV. Our findings explain such an "alliance of objectives" by a change in the positioning of Bundnis 90/Die Grunen on biofuels. Until the early 2000s, the party has strongly promoted the use of biomass for fuel production. The following years were marked by inner-party disputes on the future position towards biofuels. Thus, the actor only showed up very rarely in the news during the second half of the investigation period. Today, Bundnis 90/Die Grunen opposes first generation biofuels.

Economically and Politically Oriented Pro

Another coalition of biofuel supporters arguing with economic aspects and highlighting the role of politics is represented by the coalition economically and politically oriented pro. In this coalition, we find primarily economic actors especially from the biofuel industry that stand up for political support measures. The opinion that biofuels should be supported by the government is reinforced by some scientific actors with a focus on economic research like the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). The BMUB's representation in the coalition might not be obvious at first glance, as we might expect this institution in a coalition with thematic focus on environmental aspects. Moreover, the ministry's position is inconsistent with its own advisory institutions (WBGUand UBA, see above environmentalists contra) by arguing in favour of biofuels. We conclude that the BMUB had to submit to the Cabinet's decision to support fuels from biomass rather than taking the lead in the policy-making process. Since the social-democratic party SPD was part of this Cabinet (1998-2009) for most of the period under investigation, it consequently also shows up in a coalition endorsing the political support measures that have been ratified.

Lessons from the Media Debate on Biofuels

Our findings suggest that biofuels have been perceived mainly as an economic issue in the German media debate. This finding is in line with the study by Talamini et al. (2013) that also detected a high importance of the economic dimension in the German debate on biofuels. Analysing discursive shifts over the investigation period, we can state that social-moral questions gained in significance, whereas economic issues became less important in recent years. Overall, the media discourse was dominated by a positive news coverage of biofuels. Sub-themes describing biofuels favourably comprise the discussion on biofuels' economic impacts on the agricultural sector, their climate footprint, aesthetic aspects and their role to safeguard sufficient fuel supply in the future. The mainly positive assessment of biofuels in terms of climate footprint in the media stands in contrast to the macro-environment in German science (cf. Talamini et al. 2013) that assigns an only limited emission saving potential to this alternative fuel. Sub-themes in which biofuels are more negatively covered include the food-versus-fuel discussion, the issue on monocultures versus biodiversity and land-use changes.

While Kaup and Selbmann (2013) distinguished seven coalitions, we grouped the participating actors of the discourse into nine discourse coalitions. Within most of these, a certain level of communication between some of the members seems quite conceivable - what has not been examined by previous studies. For instance, the environmental NGOs within environmentalists contra share common perspectives on several policy problems and often coordinate their activities, for example, by joint press releases. Furthermore, concerted action between coalition members can be considered as proven in some cases, for example, as BP is a member of the MWV, both actors of the coalition economically and publicimage oriented ambivalent communicated with each other on a common positioning towards biofuels. In contrast, the politically oriented ambivalent coalition is a group of actors that we would rather describe as "strange bedfellows" as there is no indica tion for any sort of communication between, for example, OVID and Oxfam.

Talamini et al. (2013) found evidence that German scientists mainly addressed biofuels within an environmental dimension. This finding is partially supported by our results as most scientific actors show up in the coalition environmentalists contra. However, we also detected scientific actors putting emphasis on the food-versus-fuel discussion in the coalition socially oriented contra. Adding to former research, we can state that scientific actors mainly found coalition partners among civil-societal actors such as environmental NGOs or charity organizations.

Regarding the main research question our findings suggest that the coalitions broadly oriented pro and economically and politically oriented pro managed to dominate the discourse on biofuels. This finding is partially in line with Kaup and Selbmann (2013) who identified four biofuel-supporting coalitions as the dominant ones in the debate. We argue that the very successful presence of these groups of actors--that comprise but are not limited to the main beneficiaries of the implemented biofuel support measures (biofuel industry, farmers and agribusiness)--favoured a political promotion of this alternative fuel. (8) The dominance of both coalitions in the debate can be explained firstly by the fact that they attracted a relatively large constituency sharing the same interpretation of the biofuel issue. While Linhart and Dhungel (2013) identified the DBV to be rather isolated in the public discourse on "cornification" (9), our results show that this actor--as member of the broadly oriented pro coalition--managed to find several actors supporting its story lines in the debate on biofuels. Secondly, the dominant coalitions did not focus on one frame but used a variety of arguments in a wide, but still integrated set of frames (including two to three frames). By contrast, other coalitions such as environmentalists contra or socially oriented contra used the same arguments repeatedly (only one frame). Thirdly, the dominant coalitions' argumentation was mainly based on, but not limited to economic considerations and, thereby, in line with the core frame. Moreover, these coalitions constructed and reinforced the predominant position in the debate, arguing in favour of biofuels.

From our results we can derive several practical recommendations for interest groups. Intentionally, these recommendations are kept very general thus they can be applied to similar discourses in other national settings, too. We argue that to pursue policy interests, it is favourable to establish the own story lines as the dominating ones in the public debate. Thus, directing the mass media discourse in a desired tendency can assist in increasing the own assertiveness in political agenda-setting and decision-making. Shifting our view to rather unsuccessful discourse coalitions that have opposed biofuels (environmentalists contra, technologically oriented contra and socially oriented contra) we can state that they have failed to sufficiently discuss negative economic impacts of biofuels in the news and limited themselves on a rather narrow set of arguments. Instead, broadening the argumentation to a wider set of frames involves the potential to weaken and react to the main arguments of opposing interest groups. Additionally, attracting a large number of advocates that share the same interpretation on the issue at hand could be beneficial to underpin the own story lines in the debate. In our empirical case study, especially the petroleum industry has not managed to find actors sharing their story lines and thus was rather isolated in the media discourse.

This research was funded by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt). We would like to express our gratitude to Rosemarie Prinsloo, Julia Christiane Schmid and the anonymous reviewers of GAIA for their valuable comments on previous versions of this article.


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(1) Biomethane--as gaseous biofuel--is neglected as it makes up only 0.8 percent of total biofuel consumption in Germany (FNR 2017).

(2) Although concerted action between coalition members is not necessary for a categorization as a discourse coalition, it is possible that some coalition members do not only share a similar interpretation on biofuels but also coordinate their activities to some extent.

(3) Beforehand, this list of keywords was set up inductively. Complete newspapers were read and in some we found articles about biofuels. Within those articles, we often found several synonyms for "biofuels". In case those synonyms were detected in various other articles, we included them into the list of keywords.

(4) The data set is available by the authors on request.

(5) Object actors are also mentioned in the news, however, they are not treated as agents themselves but as objects being discussed by others.

(6) The categorizations were inductively developed from the data.

(7) For the grouping into discourse coalitions, we defined a minimum standing of two codings. Thus, regardless of their type (e.g., individual or association), actors that were represented in the newspapers only once were excluded.

(8) Even today, the German government plans to hold on to the promotion of biofuels--explicitly including plant-based biofuels--by means of further increasing the greenhouse gas emission reduction quota (see Deutsche Bundesregierung 2018 for latest coalition agreement).

(9) Due to the versatility of corn (food, feed or energy), its domestic and global cultivation has increased drastically, triggering discussions in Germany.

Judith Puttkammer

Born 1989 in Schkeuditz, Germany. 2012 Bachelor in political science and social anthropology, 2013 Master in agricultural economics, 2014 to 2016 PhD student at the University of Hohenheim, since 2016 PhD student at Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Germany. Research interests: political communication, discourse analysis, agricultural policy, and renewable energy policy.

Harald Grethe

Born 1965 in Buchholz, Germany. 1989 Diploma in ecological agriculture, 1996 Dipl.-Ing. agr., 2004 Dr. sc. agr. (ETH) (PhD), 2006 habilitation in agricultural economics. 2008 to 2016 professor for agricultural and food policy at the University of Hohenheim, since 2016 professor for international agricultural trade and development at Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Germany. Since 2012 chair of the Scientific Advisory Board on Agricultural Policy, Food and Consumer Protection at the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Germany. Research interests: role of agricultural sector in society, communication between the agricultural sector and societal groups.

Submitted October 30, 2017; revised version accepted May 30, 2018.

Contact: Judith Puttkammer,MSc | +49 30 209346817 |

Prof.Dr. Harald Grethe |

both: Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin | Albrecht Daniel Thaer Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences | International Agricultural Trade and Development | Unter den Linden 6 | 10099 Berlin | Germany

[c]2018 J.Puttkammer,H.Grethe; licensee oekom verlag. This is an article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

BOX 1: Keywords for the Discourse Analysis on Biofuels

* Agrodiesel (agro diesel), Agrosprit (agro fuels)

* Biodiesel (biodiesel), Bioethanol (bioethanol), Biokraftstoff (biofuels), Biosprit (synonym for biofuels), Biotreibstoff (synonym for biofuels)

* E10 (gasoline-ethanol blending containing five to ten percent bioethanol)

* Okobenzin (eco gasoline), Okodiesel (eco diesel), Okosprit (eco fuels),

* Pflanzenkraftstoff (plant-based fuels), Pflanzenmethylester (rape methyl ester), Pflanzenol (plant oil), Pflanzensprit (synonym for plant-based fuels), Pflanzentreibstoff (synonym for plant-based fuels)

* Rapsdiesel (rape diesel), Rapsmethylester (rape methyl ester), Rapsol (rape oil)

* Sun-Diesel (synthetic fuel made from biomass)
TABLE 1: Frames and sub-themes of the German print media discourse on
biofuels (sorted by number of statements). The numbers in brackets show
how many statements were coded under the sub-theme or frame. The table
also presents the relative frequency with which each sub-theme was used
to argue pro, neutral or contra on biofuels. The core frame is economic
implications and opportunities. It covers biofuels mainly positively.

FRAMES                    SUB-THEMES

economic implications     price and competitiveness (120)
and opportunities (418)   impacts on agricultural sector (73)
                          infrastructure and distribution network (55)
                          impacts on petrochemical industry (54)
                          market potential of biofuels (29)
                          economic growth and employment in Germany and
                          the EU (28)
                          biofuels as financial investment (23)
                          economic growth in developing and emerging
                          countries (18)
                          impacts on consumers (18)
environmental and         climate footprint (133)
climate protection (409)  ecological balance (121)
                          land usage (76)
                          monocultures vs. biodiversity (32)
                          usage of agricultural chemicals and
                          fertilizers (25)
                          impacts on waters and/ or soil (16)
                          impacts on forests (6)
political measures (356)  national politics (148)
                          EU politics (74)
                          necessity for political support (50)
                          limits of feasibility (29)
                          influence on legislative process by organized
                          interest groups (19)
                          political will (14)
                          sustainability standards as prerequisite for
                          political support (9)
                          bureaucratic burden (6)
                          market distortion vs. self-regulation (5)
                          international agreements (2)
technology and research   engine operation (128)
(261)                     biofuels in comparison to other emission
                          saving potentials (31)
                          biofuels as future technology (27)
                          biofuels in comparison to other alternative
                          drives (22)
                          energy balance (22)
                          vehicle conversion (21)
                          technical utilization of by-products (10)
social responsibility     food vs. fuel (79)
(161)                     impacts on human health (41)
                          aesthetic aspects (19)
                          social impacts on developing and emerging
                          countries (15)
                          ethics and moral in home country (7)
need to distinguish       distinction between different generations of
between biofuels (71)     biofuels (49)
                          distinction between biodiesel, bioethanol and
                          plant oil (22)
securing sufficient       independency from finite fossil fuels (57)
fuel supply (71)          reduced dependency on imports (14)
public perception         public acceptance of biofuels (29)
of biofuels (40)          utilization of biofuels for image improvement

FRAMES                    SHARE OF STATEMENTS [%]
                          PRO    NEUTRAL  CONTRA

economic implications      55.7   27.4    16.9
and opportunities (418)    90.3    5.5     4.2
                           52.7   36.4    10.9
                           81.5   13.0     5.5
                           58.1   16.1    25.8
                           85.2    7.4     7.4
                           56.0   36.0     8.0
                          100.0    0.0     0.0
                           33.3   22.2    44.5
environmental and          66.9    6.8    26.3
climate protection (409)   53.3    2.5    44.2
                           29.0   19.7    51.3
                           25.0    3.1    71.9
                            8.0    0.0    92.0
                           50.0    0.0    50.0
                           16.7    0.0    83.3
political measures (356)   38.5   38.5    23.0
                           45.3   45.3     9.4
                           42.3   19.2    38.5
                           25.8   29.0    45.2
                            0.0   35.0    65.0
                           57.2   35.7     7.1
                           11.1   66.7    22.2
                           16.7   33.3    50.0
                           20.0    0.0    80.0
                            0.0  100.0     0.0
technology and research    40.5   19.1    40.4
(261)                       6.5    3.2    90.3
                           92.6    0.0     7.4
                           59.1    4.5    36.4
                           13.6    9.1    77.3
                           42.8   28.6    28.6
                           70.0   10.0    20.0
social responsibility      20.3   21.5    58.2
(161)                      56.1   12.2    31.7
                           73.7    5.3    21.0
                           33.3    0.0    66.7
                           57.1   14.3    28.6
need to distinguish        72.0   26.0     2.0
between biofuels (71)      36.4   45.4    18.2
securing sufficient        82.5    7.0    10.5
fuel supply (71)           71.5   21.4     7.1
public perception          20.7   17.2    62.1
of biofuels (40)            8.3   16.7    75.0

TABLE 2: Characteristics of the identified discourse coalitions.


CONTRA      environmentalists contra         environmental and climate
            technologically oriented         technology and research
            socially oriented contra         social responsibility
AMBIVALENT  politically oriented ambivalent  political measures
            economically and public-image    economic implications and
            oriented ambivalent              opportunites, public
                                             perception of biofuels
PRO         differerentiation oriented pro   need to distinguish between
            economically oriented pro        economic implications and
            broadly oriented pro             economic implications and
                                             opportunites, environmental
                                             and climate protection,
                                             securing sufficient fuel
            economically and politically     economic implications and
            oriented pro                     opportunites, political

FRAMES      MAIN REPRESENTATIVES                               NUMBER
                                                               OF ACTORS

CONTRA      environmental NGOs, science-based research         16
            institutions, German Advisory Council on Global
            Change (WBGU), Federal Environment Agency (UBA)
            fraction of German automobile industry incl.        4
            subcontractors (BMW, Bosch)
            charity organizations, research and political      10
            institutions with focus on development issues,
            Free Democratic Party (FDP)
AMBIVALENT  charity organization, association of the biofuel    4
            petroleum industry, General German Automobile       3
            Club (ADAC)
PRO         biomass and agricultural research institutions,     4
            biofuel industry
            biofuel industry, finance sector                    7
            German Farmers' Association (DBV), biofuel         16
            industry, agribusiness, fraction of German
            automobile industry (VW, Daimler), Federal
            Ministry of Food and Agri culture (BMEL),
            Christian Democratic Parties (CDU/CSU), Green
            Party (Bundnis 90/Die Grunen)
            biofuel industry, economic research institutions,  16
            Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature
            Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB),
            Social Democratic Party (SPD)
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Title Annotation:RESEARCH
Author:Puttkammer, Judith; Grethe, Harald
Publication:GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society
Date:May 1, 2018
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