Economics Minister Habeck: He wanted wind turbines and got LNG

Status: 09.12.2022 1:46 p.m

For a year now, Germany has had a super ministry for the economy and climate protection – headed by a green vice chancellor. Best conditions for the expansion of green energies. Then came the reality.

By Jan Zimmermann, ARD Capital Studio

Robert Habeck imagined his time as federal minister very differently. A few days before taking office last year, the then Green party leader said: With climate protection, industry, small and medium-sized enterprises and economic policy in one house, “the operational basis has now been created to lead this country climate-neutrally and with good prosperity through the coming decades “.

It was clear to him from the start: This will be a “Herculean task”. His focus: the expansion of renewable energies. Gas-fired power plants should serve as a bridge to avoid supply bottlenecks when switching to new climate-neutral forms of energy.

But Habeck’s plans and the work he had started in his ministry fell from one day to the next. Everything changes with the outbreak of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. The topic of energy supply moves into focus. There is great concern that gas and oil could become scarce in Germany.

Difficult toads to swallow

Habeck is suddenly faced with a huge construction site. The gas storage tanks are almost empty. When asked how Germany can fill this up quickly, the Green politician shrugs his shoulders. “We are, you have to say, in the biggest energy crisis in Germany,” explains Habeck. Binding requirements for operators of gas storage facilities follow. Habeck changes laws and initiates numerous new ones.

Meanwhile, the crisis worsens. Russian President Vladimir Putin is gradually reducing gas supplies. The economy and private households are increasingly suffering from the high prices. The opposition is pushing. CDU party leader Friedrich Merz demands: “We will not be able to avoid running hard coal and lignite power plants in Germany longer.” This is a difficult decision, especially for the Federal Minister of Economics.

As a matter of fact. It’s a toad that’s hard to swallow – for Habeck and his party, which a few months earlier was campaigning to exit coal as quickly as possible. But the Greens are pragmatic. The Green Economics Minister sets the legal course and lets coal-fired power plants start up again. Habeck’s course is well received by the general public.

Controversial partnerships

The Green Minister travels the world, concludes new energy partnerships. He is speeding up the construction of liquefied gas terminals on the North Sea and Baltic Sea – despite sometimes fierce criticism from environmental and climate protection groups. Closing fossil energy gaps determines his work. His trip to Qatar and the bow to Qatar’s trade minister caused criticism – especially from political opponents. Habeck approaches the sheikhs as a supplicant in the hope of gas deliveries to Germany. He was mocked online as a “Kückling”. On ZDF, Habeck justifies his actions with the words: “Politics means facing reality, getting your hands dirty and not whining around when you’ve gotten your hands dirty.”

After getting his hands dirty, the economics minister is increasingly confronted with an irritable mood in the federal government. The debate about extending the service life of the three remaining nuclear power plants in Germany determines the political debate and the headlines.

Gas allocation: “Absolute government botch”

He also made his first big mistake: the gas levy, which was knit under time pressure, to save gas importers like Uniper from financial collapse. The levy is intended to make each kilowatt hour of gas around 2.4 cents more expensive. The opposition in the Bundestag is up in arms. “What Habeck has presented is an absolute government botch and must therefore be stopped,” demands CSU regional group leader Alexander Dobrindt, for example. A levy that makes gas even more expensive must be prevented. It also quickly becomes clear that gas importers who are doing well economically could also benefit from the levy. A design flaw that brought Habeck a lot of malice. He has to correct the allocation.

But no sooner has the mistake been corrected than the coalition partners say goodbye to the allocation plans. The criticism is too great. Federal Finance Minister Christian Linder makes possible what previously seemed impossible: the state takes on 200 billion euros in debt, the so-called double boom with gas and electricity price brakes. Habeck looks battered, public criticism of him is great, his popularity in polls is dwindling.

criticism from civil society

But over the autumn the storm subsides. The Green Economics Minister manages to fill up the gas storage tanks again in a few months. His tour around the world to tap into new gas and oil wells is beginning to bear fruit. And the first liquid gas terminals are due to go into operation shortly.

However, an alliance of 18 environmental and social organizations, churches and trade unions does not give Habeck and the traffic light coalition a good rating after the first year of government. The critics call for not only combating the symptoms of the crisis, but also for making society crisis-proof in the long term by investing in climate protection and social security. “The traffic light has not yet succeeded in turning the tide for climate protection,” says Christiane Averbeck from the Climate Alliance Germany association. There is an urgent need for more public investment in the expansion of rail, for energy-efficient building renovation and the promotion of heat pumps.

The expectations of the climate protection minister are high. Despite the war and the crisis, the Green politician has one thing easier than anyone with political responsibility before him: Hardly anyone still dares to doubt the rapid expansion of renewable energies.

More speed in climate protection – despite the energy crisis

After Habeck had to spend billions on gas storage, economic aid and liquid gas terminals, he wants to invest more in the climate-neutral transformation in the coming year. He recently emphasized in the Bundestag: “A climate-neutral, low-CO2 mode of production and consumption is the economic future.” He sees Germany in competition for a lead market for green technologies – this is already shown by the 430 billion euro “Inflation Reduction Act” of the US, according to Habeck. For example, the US uses the program to subsidize the purchase of electric cars manufactured in North America.

For the Economics Minister it is clear: Germany must position itself well. “There will be competition between the major economic powers” who will build up this lead market for a climate-neutral, green industry the strongest, the fastest, the most decisively. This fits in with Habeck’s announcement a few days ago: He wants to support German industrial companies in switching to climate-friendly production with “climate protection contracts” worth billions.

For Habeck’s critics, that’s a lot of nice announcements, but nothing more. The Economics and Climate Protection Minister knows how much focus he is on. And he knows that the coming year shouldn’t be any less strenuous than the current one. He is currently trying to initiate as much as possible in terms of climate neutrality – knowing full well that the energy crisis will probably continue to drive him along in the coming year.

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