Als Robert Habeck almost a year ago in the Ludwig-Erhard-Saal of the Ministry of Economic Affairs took over the official business from Peter Altmaier, he had big plans. He wanted to “write history together” with the employees of his new super ministry for economy and climate protection. They did that too, albeit a little differently than the first green economics minister imagined at the time. The energy transition became an energy crisis minister, instead of climate protection it was about gas, gas, gas.
You can tell Habeck how much this year has drained him, this ride on a political roller coaster. At the beginning of the Ukraine war, sympathies flew to him. After the chancellor immediately fell silent again after his turning point speech, Habeck became the chief explainer of the crisis policy federal government: no immediate embargo against Russia, but resolve economic dependency as soon as possible. His bow to the rulers of the gas-rich desert state of Qatar only briefly dampened enthusiasm. The Habeck fan club could hardly be bigger.
One repair follows the next
Then came the summer and the gas levy – and the downturn. It took a surprisingly long time for those responsible in the Ministry of Economy It became clear that in view of the dizzying rise in gas prices, it would be difficult to explain an additional political burden to the citizens. Especially if companies that are doing well would also benefit from the levy. It was only after two tough months that the surcharge and the inevitable came to an end: the rescue of the gas importer Uniper with tax money.
You learn from mistakes, as the saying goes. This only seems to apply to a limited extent in politics. In any case, this is repeated in the design of the €200 billion “defense shield” against the high ones energy prices the pattern from summer. Again, new instruments are being developed with the emergency aid and the price brakes for gas and electricity, and it is once again becoming apparent how difficult it is to implement them properly. But instead of pulling the rip cord and developing a less bureaucratic and socially just form of relief, such as energy cost subsidies graded according to income, the draft laws are getting longer and longer. Even those who deal with it every day sometimes stumble when they have to explain how the price brakes work – Habeck included.
The tug-of-war over them was also not very glorious term extension for the three remaining German nuclear power plants. The economic experts, the transmission system operators, the EU Commission: all of them had urgently advised not to switch off a reliable, cheap and, moreover, low-CO2 power source in the biggest energy crisis since the Second World War. But the vice chancellor turned out to be a prisoner of his party and clung to his construct of an operational reserve. Until the Chancellor spoke a word of power: the piles will continue to run at least until mid-April.
The fact that one repair follows the next in both economic and energy policy could also be due to the way Habeck filled the top posts in his ministry a year ago. While the corporate world swears by diverse teams, he relied on a green monoculture, old companions, some with family ties, of whom Habeck could be sure that they would drive forward the conversion of the economy to climate neutrality with all ambition. Now they are watching somewhat helplessly how the United States is using cheap energy and plenty of subsidies to lure German companies to invest there.
But there are also good things to note. The gas purchase operation was a success, the storage facilities are full to the brim. The feared shortage in winter has not yet been ruled out, but has become improbable. At the same time, the first floating terminal for liquid gas ships was built in Wilhelmshaven in record time. This not only eases the situation in Germany, but also in other European countries. And then Habeck’s Greens did something else that was sheer revolutionary for them: They signaled to their minister that they were new FTA no longer fight, but want to accompany benevolently. Even if the acid test is still to come: Despite all the tiredness, Habeck was relieved at the Asia-Pacific Conference in Singapore. Perhaps in the new year he can actually be more than just an energy crisis minister.