“The situation was not so critical at the end of the GDR”

Schwedt is now known throughout Germany. The PCK refinery north of Brandenburg produces gasoline for half of East Germany from Russian oil. But the European Union wants to impose an embargo on Russian oil. As a result, the site could become Germany’s first major economic casualty of the war in Ukraine. Federal Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Monday presented his three-stage model: First, oil must come from other sources through the port of Rostock. Second, the additional costs incurred are borne by the federal government; Third: Replacing the largest Russian shareholder in the refinery with a trust model. Annekathrin Hoppe, who has been the mayor for a few months, explains how this was received by the staff.

Ms Hobby, Minister Habek Monday told your staff he did not want to “sex with anyone” or “paint the sky pink”. “We need Schwedt,” he said. Was this Monday a good day for Schwedt?

I would say it was the first start. It was an important and a good sign that the Federal Minister for the Economy came in in person, that he reiterated his plans for the workforce – and that he announced that he would be back to discuss next steps.

How do you assess the situation?

The situation here was not at all critical, not even after the end of the GDR. The federal government at that time had clearly realized that the entire supply in northeastern Germany depended on the refinery at Schwedt. The entire pipeline system is regulated for crude oil from Russia from Schwedt. But also the system of lines for the products that the refinery makes from them and sells at gas stations and airports. Currently there is no alternative to this.

dpa / Monica Skolmoska

On-site: Federal Economy Secretary Robert Habeck explains his rescue plans for the workforce Monday night.

And gasoline from West Germany?

Even after the end of the GDR, no connection was established between East and West via the pipeline. It is just between north and south. The entire East is supplied by refineries at Schwedt and Leona. Refineries in the west are very close to the western border due to its proximity to the large oil port of Rotterdam. You are too far from East Germany.

Who gets the gasoline from your refinery?

Gas stations in eastern Germany, mainly in the federal states of Berlin and Brandenburg, but also in parts of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and western Poland.

Government plans promises. To date, oil comes from the Urals through the 3,000-kilometer Druzhba oil pipeline, which was opened in 1963. Now it has to come by ship. Since this is more expensive, the federal government wants to donate the money. After Habeck’s visit, is there real confidence in Schwedt that the federal government has understood the role of the PCK?

The mood is still restless while still arrogant. There are doubts that all the jobs can be retained, despite Mr. Habeck’s efforts. This was also not a binding promise from him, but an open one. Because a lot of individual problems have to be resolved ASAP for everything to work out. Hence my doubts. But the staff will of course take Mr. Habeck at his word and “nail it” on it.

DBA / Patrick Ball

Since the oil has so far come directly from Russia to Schwedt via the pipeline, it is much cheaper than transporting it by ship.

What is your personal impression?

Mr. Habeck has already expressed that our location is really important to him. He is sympathetic and can get close to people. But this alone does not save the site. It is also clear: the previously promised quantities that will come through the port of Rostock are still very small. Complementary deliveries are necessary.

How would you rate the state government’s commitment?

She is so committed to the site, she immediately sat down with us and protested the oil embargo. But this is becoming more likely.

There were officials who demanded that Schwedt be removed from the EU oil embargo. Are Swedes more akin to Russia than Germans farther west?

Defending their jobs does not mean a vote on Russian oil. For people, keeping their jobs is paramount. You are very afraid of the future.

In 2008, Schwet was declared the first national park city in Germany. This indicates that the area is more than a rural area. How important is 1,200 jobs to the city?

We are a city of nature and industry. We were able to combine two seemingly irreconcilable opposites. It was possible to preserve the refinery and preserve nature in the national park. In addition to 1,200 direct jobs, there are a much larger number of indirect jobs that depend on the presence of the PCK, for example neighboring service companies or industrial service providers. If we lose these jobs, the entire industrial location will be called into question. That would be an economic disaster for the region.

The second economic stop of the city is the Leipa paper mill. How is it there?

There’s also economic pressures there, as energy-intensive production struggles with skyrocketing prices.

Schwedt has experienced huge ups and downs. Shortly before the end of World War II, the city was declared a fortress. During the capture of the city by the Red Army, the city was destroyed by 85 percent and lost half of its 10,000 inhabitants. Then the industrial boom in the German Democratic Republic and growth to 54,000 inhabitants. Since 1990, the city has lost more than 30 percent of its population. How does the city stand?

Schwedter has a keen interest in the industry and is flexible. Since they are well educated, they have been better able to deal with the major economic upheavals of the past decades. But the prerequisite was always the presence of sufficient industrial jobs.

You personally have a close relationship with PCK: I was born in Sweden, worked for PCK during the GDR era, left after the collapse of the GDR and started in 1991 as an ABM in the city administration. When I took over as mayor on December 1, 2021, I said: Your most important challenge will be rebuilding the pool and renovating the Uckermark Stages. Do you think you should have helped save the PCK too?

No, no one can expect that. Now the PCK rescue comes first. We are also working very well with the new administration.

Was there an earlier controversy about Shevitt’s dependence too heavily on Russia?

There were almost no public discussions, but three years ago we took the first steps toward the transformation process. Because the previous federal government also wanted to reduce the use of fossil raw materials.

Oil embargoes, climate change, electric cars, conversion to hydrogen – gasoline is no longer the fuel of the future. Where do you see Schwedt in ten years?

Schwedt is the site of the modern innovation park. With the support of the state and the federal government, young companies that are engaged in the development and production of modern fuels have already settled here. Schwedt’s development away from classic oil toward alternative fuels was the right decision.

The interview was conducted by Jens Blankinagel.

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