Economy Minister: Robert Habeck’s difficult task

Updated on 05/17/2022 at 16:55

  • First, the energy transition, now energy independence: Economy Minister Robert Habeck has one of the toughest jobs in the federal government.
  • The Green politician wants to quickly make Germany independent of Russian energy.
  • On the road with Habeck at Leuna’s Chemical Park.

Robert Habeck is said to enjoy politics the most when there are headwinds. If that’s true, you have to imagine the Federal Minister for Economics and Climate Protection as a happy person: Given the challenges, he’s in a hurricane.

With the energy shift, his ministry has to take on a huge task right from the start. Since Russia’s aggressive war on Ukraine, Habeck now wants to make Germany independent of Russian energy as quickly as possible. It’s bombing from all sides: citizens are afraid of rising energy prices. The industry does not want to dispense with gas if delivery is interrupted. Environmentalists protest against the construction of liquid gas stations on the coast.

A tour of all the federal states

However, Robert Habeck got out of the car with a big smile on Monday at Leuna Chemical Park. He wears a blue suit and takes off his jacket at the second stop. Spring sun means good again.

Habeck is currently touring all federal states to promote the sustainable restructuring of the German economy. On this day it was the turn of Saxony-Anhalt: first the state capital Magdeburg, then Leona. The chemical garden is a reflection of German economic history: in 1916, BASF laid the foundation stone for an ammonia plant here. This resulted in an industrial complex the size of 1,800 football fields. After World War II, Leuna was the largest chemical plant in the German Democratic Republic with about 28,000 employees.

Ambitious plans – or delusions of grandeur?

After the reunification, the group was divided into smaller units and privatized. Today about 12,000 people work in more than 100 companies in the region. Sustainability is also a priority at Leuna. Linde operates a hydrogen liquefaction plant. Hydrogen is cooled to minus 253 degrees in tanks and thus can be transported in a more climate-friendly manner.

Habek is visiting Leona
A truck full of liquid hydrogen.

© dpa / Jan Woitas

But here, too, everything is connected to everything else: there is still very little green hydrogen produced in a climate-neutral way. So Linde relies on gas to produce pure hydrogen. This is from Russia. With hydrogen as an energy source, it’s like the transformation of the economy in general: the technology is there, and so is the knowledge. But until everything is widely available, it will take a lot of time and money.

Habek’s plans for energy transition and energy independence seem ambitious, but to some people they seem naive or paranoid. So far, that hasn’t hurt her popularity. At the end of April, he reached the most popular German politician in the representative poll conducted by the ZDF Politbarometer election research group. Habek created a virtue out of necessity. He openly struggles with himself and his challenges. Explains decisions and considerations in uncomplicated, sometimes flimsy terms.

“A skilled self-promoter”

His Greatest Weakness: Robert Habeck sometimes seems like a huge fan of Robert Habeck himself. Publicist Jagoda Marinic said he was vain about the politician in the documentary ARD Showdown: “He’s a skilled self-promoter, and that’s probably his biggest weakness. He’s capitalizing on the direction politicians want to be actual pop stars.”

However, there is not much to discover in the city of Lyon. In his conversations with company representatives, Habek does not brag about what has been achieved. Above all, ask questions with him, seeming skeptical, sometimes almost anxious.

Finnish company UPM is building a biorefinery in Leuna: it uses wood from sustainable forests to produce the chemicals used to make PET bottles or frames. Habeck is particularly interested in: How much does it cost consumers? Will products become more expensive than if they were made from conventional chemicals? The contact person gives an evasive answer: “Our customers appreciate the sustainability aspect.” Happy frown.

The Condolence Award offers an opportunity to make a name for yourself

On his way to becoming Vice Chancellor, the 52-year-old has come a long way and at the same time has enjoyed a very fast career. The Doctor of Philosophy and children’s book author was Minister of Environment and Agriculture in Schleswig-Holstein from 2012 to 2018. The time that followed as head of the Green Party in opposition at the federal level must have seemed long to him, because Habeck had always wanted to rule.

When he designed the Department of Economic Affairs and Climate Protection at the end of 2021 when forming the Traffic Light Coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP, it was considered a consolation prize: Habeck had already wanted to become finance minister, but had to leave the post to FDP chairman Christian Lindner.

However, the business department was a lucky decision for Habek’s career. Against the backdrop of the war, he can now distinguish himself as a crisis manager. In the still brief struggle for energy independence, his ministry can point to successes. Germany has already reduced its dependence on Russian oil from 35 to 12 percent. For gas, the share fell from 55 to 35 percent.

He also praises the political opponent Bhabk. The Prime Minister of Saxony-Anhalt, Rainer Haselow (CDU) in Leona said the federal government acted with a sense of proportion when it came to oil, bought alternatives, and only then spoke about sanctions. “I thank Mr. Habek for his highly differentiated and balanced actions.”

HABC Message: “You’ll Go On Well”

Habek is visiting Leona
Robert Habeck with Prime Minister of Saxony Anhalt Rainer Hasseloff in front of the Total refinery.

© dpa / Jan Woitas

The last stop of the ministerial visit was the Total Energies refinery. Not without reason: the company canceled its contracts with Russian suppliers back in March. This move made it easier for Habek to convey the message that an oil embargo on Russia could be administered.

But Habek also talks about the pressure putting his weight on the industry. About economic models that have come into question due to the war and sanctions against Russia. The Chairman of the Business Council of Infraleuna GmbH also described the concerns of his workforce to him on the day. However, wanting to convey optimism, Habek pays tribute to the great dynamism of the chemical garden. His message that day: “You see, it’s going on—and it’s going to go well.”

He has now put his jacket back on. The sun disappeared, and the sky darkened. It’s storm again.

Sources used:

  • ARD media library: Showdown: Markus Feldenkirchen meets Robert Habeck
  • Research Group Elections: Politbarometer April 2 2022

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