HThere are performances you shouldn’t be too satisfied with: “It could have been higher or more luxurious,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck thanked his audience at the end of question time. After all, eggs did not fly here in Schwed.
It was already clear that it would not be a home match for the Minister of Economy and Climate on the German-Polish border: even under normal circumstances, a staff meeting at a refinery is not an easy place for a Green Party politician.
But Habeck does not come to the PCK refinery in normal times, and he also has to explain why Germany has joined the embargo on Russian oil, and the oil they process into gasoline and kerosene here in Schwedt.
More than 1,000 people work at the refinery, which is not only dependent on Russian oil but is also majority-owned by Russia’s state-owned company Rosneft – they all fear losing their jobs. The refinery and Schwedt are inseparable, the company dominates the place, the name of the company is already written in capital letters on the side of the road at the exit of the main road: “PCK”.
It used to stand for “Petrochemical Complex”. In the company canteen, where Habeck was supposed to speak, there are still socialist mosaics hanging on the wall: next to the chemical formulas, laboratory, aircraft and tanker, you can also see the flags of the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union – and two peace doves.
Some here in Schwedt have a different view of world politics in recent weeks than the politicians in Berlin. Habeck felt that Monday evening in Brandenburg. They moved the business meeting outside, the rush of the staff was so great, on the balcony the grill was already heated up, after habik our neck steak today.
But the minister first questioned. Habek tried his usual method: establishing closeness, understanding cues, and patiently explaining. Without further ado, he hops onto one of the tables so the staff can see him too. Of course, he understands their concerns, due to “the pressure on their souls,” as Habek puts it.
It concerns home, work, turmoil and fear of poverty. Of course, he knows that they have already gone through “a lot of transformations” here, since at one time 8,500 employees worked at the refinery in Schwedt, and today there are only 1,000 left. He also knows that they “can’t buy anything” from his understanding.
The minister clarified that it is now clear that in response to Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine, further sanctions should follow, and this will also include an oil embargo. PCK cannot violate this either, because high penalties will be due. “Then you will all be out of work immediately,” Habek says. There is now a plan on how to prevent this: the oil from the National Emergency Reserve will be transported by ship to Rostock and from there to Schwedt.
It is likely that additional oil will be brought in from Poland, which will then be sufficient for 60 percent of capacity, and Schuedt will not have to sit still. The oil will also be mixed in such a way that it can be processed at the PCK refinery, which technically should be possible, says the minister, “on paper”.
The federal government will also pay the additional costs, the necessary ships are regulated, but you must be able to carry them out. So far, Russian owners have shown little willingness to move away from Russian oil supplies or even to make preparations to be able to switch to other suppliers if necessary.
So preparations are being made in Berlin to enable the refinery to be confiscated, if necessary, or placed under guardianship. “The legal preparations have been completed,” Habek said on the sidelines of the meeting. It’s a complex plan – the minister also admits – that can go wrong: “I don’t want to spoil you and paint your sky pink: there may be a problem somehow.”
Habeck could not really allow his plan to fail in Schwedt: if the BCK refinery remained stationary, large parts of East Germany and Berlin would run out of fuel. There is a “good chance” of saving jobs here. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t see me just as your enemy, but as someone trying to get to where you are now,” Habek says.
Indeed, the minister succeeds in not encountering outright hostility during his speech. There are no eggs and shouts, from time to time there is restrained applause. But when questions are asked, it turns out that this is a different place than the government district of Berlin. In fact, the management asked the interns to prepare some nice questions, but they hardly got a chance to speak.
Instead, those who have a radically different view of the Ukraine war come to the microphone: the USA has financed regime change in Kyiv with billions, one employee claims, and the US also wants to prevent good relations between Russia and Germany with oil . the ban. In any case, oil and gas are not fossil fuels at all.
“How can you prove that you represent German interests and not those of the United States?” asks Habek at the end of his conspiracy theory. “I understand that you are concerned about Schwedt, but do not go so far as to make the Russian war of aggression relativistically into a misunderstood solidarity,” the minister responded, he demands. “We must not forget who is the victim and who is the perpetrator.”
Habek also attacks the following question: The Druzhba pipeline, which supplies the refinery with Russian oil, should be exempted from the embargo. Sanctions will in no way harm Russia, and the oil will then be sold to other parts of the world. “I would like to politely remind you that you have taken an oath,” says the employee. After all, his oath of office obligates him to avoid harm from the German people – not from the Ukrainians.
Habek acknowledges that it is by no means certain that the embargo will actually affect Russia economically. But the EU also wants to use sanctions to prevent tankers shipping Russian oil to other parts of the world from being insured by targeting reinsurers.
“There is a good chance that the oil embargo will be imposed on Russia,” says the minister. The position section means a lot to him. He says, “In the short term, you might say, what does the war in Ukraine have to do with me?” “But I will break the oath of office if Russia succeeds in Ukraine.” Then the regime in Moscow will attack other countries.
He can by no means impress everyone in Schwedt. The next questioner asks, “Why should we give a business partner who has reliably and consistently delivered such nonsense for decades right in front of their bag and put a ban on it?” “We get raw material and process raw material, if this flow of raw materials stops for political correctness, it’s not right in my opinion.”
Habek probably replies that there will be no political agreement at that time, but: “The ban will come!” So it is wise to prepare for it now. “If you have better answers, use them!” Then it comes to radical climate activists and their protests. The climate minister and refinery staff don’t agree on this point either. Habeck said after the business meeting that the type of discussion was “private.” After all, the eggs did not fly. Then he returned to Berlin.