The stressful first year of German Economics Minister Robert Habeck | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

March: Doha, Qatar

In early March this year, Robert Habeck traveled to Qatar on what journalists would later call his “gas begging tour”. Ahead of the trip, the economy minister of the centre-left Green Party had already sounded out various countries – including Canada and Norway – for new gas supplies to Germany.

Habeck had been in office for just over three months by then and had probably imagined that his tenure would be quite different. He had hoped to push forward action on climate protection and sustainability, but instead found himself buying petrol in the emirate, a country widely criticized for its human rights abuses.

Last March, the gas still came from Russia via the North Sea gas pipeline Nord Stream 1. But in Doha, Habeck was already under no illusions that it would stay that way. He was right: in the fall, the two gas pipelines were ruptured following an attack. Many observers suspect Russia was behind the detonations that led to massive leaks in the Baltic Sea.

But in Doha in the spring, Habeck was bursting with creative energy. He has set clear priorities: the contradiction of a green politician campaigning to provide fossil fuels doesn’t seem to bother him; the war in Ukraine, which had started a few days earlier, had changed everything.

Habeck took a large business delegation with him to the Gulf, and most business leaders have nothing but praise for his communication style. CEO of industrial group Thyssen Krupp, Martina Merz, told DW: “Mr Habeck is doing a good job for Germany here. In my opinion, he sees himself in the talks as someone who wants to make connections, for the benefit of green transformation and cooperation between countries.

Later, it turned out that the Qataris preferred to supply liquefied gas to other countries that offered them long-term contracts. The German government, however, wants to quickly reduce its dependence on fossil fuels – a conflict that shaped Habeck’s first months in office.

But in Qatar, Habeck played to his strengths, like his open communication style, which left room for doubt. More than any other coalition politician, Habeck made his concerns clear after the Russian attack on Ukraine. “I mean, this guy has nukes,” he told DW at the time, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Few would have imagined last year that Habeck would tour the Middle East to strike fossil fuel deals

June: Israel and Jordan

This time, Habeck was on the road not as a gasoline buyer, but rather as German vice-chancellor. He visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and a large refugee camp in Jordan.

His mood was noticeably graver than in March; during the trip, employees of his ministry reported the enormous workload that the energy supply issue had entailed.

Later, at the end of September, Habeck said of his employees at a congress of the Federation of German Industries (BDI): “People, at some point, they also have to sleep and eat. People get sick. tinnitus. They can’t take it anymore.”

Around the same time, a prominent Green politician, who did not want to be named, told DW, “Robert needs a lie.” It wasn’t just the employees who were at breaking point, but the minister himself was now increasingly stressed in recognizable ways.

July: Gas Tax

Habeck’s idea to levy a surcharge on all gas customers in Germany to support companies currently scouring the global market for expensive alternatives to Russian gas has turned into a minor disaster.

Initially, different and confusing information circulated about the amount of the fee. Habeck himself spoke of up to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which would have burdened an average household of three to four people up to €2,000 ($1,940) a year. Eventually it went to 2.4 cents, and then the gas tax was dropped altogether.

Instead, the government has decided to spend 200 billion euros to cap gas prices and support businesses. But it was still unclear exactly how it was to be done. Everything remained uncertain and contradictory.

Habeck, long Germany’s most popular politician in almost every poll, slipped to fourth place in the latest “Political Barometer”, behind his two party colleagues, Cem Özdemir, the Minister of Agriculture, and Annalena Baerbock, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Chancellor Olaf Scholz was also always ahead of Habeck.

September and October: the end of coal and nuclear

Habeck then faced widespread criticism, including from the business community, when he said he only wanted to keep two of Germany’s three nuclear power plants still in operation until the end of March. next year due to the energy crisis.

All three were to be closed permanently by the end of the year. And Lützerath’s question ultimately turned many Green voters against Habeck.

It has been announced that the small town in the lignite mining region of the Rhineland will eventually be bulldozed to make way for the expansion of the Garzweiler opencast lignite mine, although it had long since become the new big symbol of the climate movement.

Although Habeck has agreed with the energy company RWE to bring forward the shutdown of coal production in North Rhine-Westphalia from 2038 to 2030 in return, this is of no use to the inhabitants of Lützerath.

For example, Habeck’s constituency office in Flensburg was barricaded with yellow wooden crosses – long the symbol of opposition to coal and nuclear – during a protest by climate activists.

Eight months after taking office, Robert Habeck is still struggling to balance the government’s pragmatic wartime politics with the principles of the Green Party.

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James R. Rhodes