Sunday, December 5th, 2021
Balance of an era
Altmaier was the “tranquilizer of the republic”
For many years, Peter Altmaier kept Chancellor Angela Merkel’s back free. But as Minister of Economic Affairs he was the wrong person, says political scientist Albrecht von Lucke in an interview with ntv. In the end, “he was just as burned out as Merkel”.
ntv: Altmaier used to be called Merkel’s all-purpose weapon – it was always used where she needed it. Would you say Altmaier was the right man for the Ministry of Economic Affairs?
Von Lucke: The Ministry of Economic Affairs was definitely the position that Altmaier – it must be said hard to say – performed the worst. One can even say that the exhaustion that Merkel also felt in her last legislative period extended fully to Altmaier. In the Ministry of Economic Affairs he was not the right man in the right place, rather in the wrong place. Much was left lying around and not much has come out of him. And it hits the nail on the head: Altmaier was Merkel’s all-purpose weapon from the start. He has done crucial work for her in all of the other offices. That is why he was closer to her than any other minister. Perhaps apart from Thomas de Maizière. So he kept his back on Merkel from start to finish. But in the end he was just as burned out as Merkel and therefore there was nothing more to be gained from the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
How would you rate his actions in the Corona crisis? On the one hand there was a lot of praise for the comprehensive economic aid, on the other hand there was also criticism that it took so long.
A lot of things came out of the Ministry of Economic Affairs far too slowly. Quite a lot has been set in motion, no question about it. But the implementation and also the pressure that should have taken place has not been carried out to the necessary extent. And what was planned for a longer time, i.e. what should have taken place beyond Corona, fell by the wayside. And that points to a cardinal problem by Altmaier. During the Corona period, he was always very present on all talk shows in the republic. Here he was brilliantly keeping his back on Merkel. In a way, it was the republic’s sedative pill. Just through his charisma, this calm and this serenity, he eliminated many problems for Merkel. But that was not the right attitude, especially during the Corona period. It would have required more forward-looking politics and far more decisive action. He failed just as much as Merkel ended up doing.
And as Federal Minister of Energy – which he was – did he act more decisively?
It must be said clearly: the steps in energy policy were also too hesitant. It was not a visionary enough step. One could also have imagined that there would have been closer cooperation between the environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. However, there was no clear interlinking here, although, interestingly enough, Minister of Economic Affairs Altmaier was just like Merkel previously Minister of the Environment and therefore would have brought with him the best prerequisites. This shows that energy and environmental policy in the Merkel and Altmaier eras – because it was almost a parallel era – fell by the wayside. Ultimately, it was almost 16 years wasted in terms of energy policy.
Where would you say, did Altmaier advance the German economy?
Well, Altmaier was just like Merkel the trustee of the existing. It was no coincidence that the German automotive industry in particular applauded at the end of Merkel’s departure. The tradition that Merkel embodies as such was also the Altmaier tradition: ultimately to ensure the preservation of the existing and to secure the guarantee of the economic export nation Germany in order to guarantee prosperity in this way. But what it completely missed was the visionary side. Altmaier missed the knowledge that ultimately we can only secure prosperity with a forward-looking economic and environmental policy. In this respect, Altmaier is in exactly the same tradition as Merkel. First and foremost, securing prosperity and the competitiveness of Germany as an export nation stood for him. And of course that has shown itself to be particularly fatal in the retardation, in the slowdown, in the reactionary attitude of the automotive industry, which ultimately slept through everything that was innovative and sustainable.
Then let’s look ahead: Robert Habeck becomes Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection. What will he do differently?
First of all, Habeck will have to do something differently because he, or rather the traffic light, has merged climate and economic policy. This is a consequence of the failure of economic policy under Merkel and, above all, of the failure of climate policy. In the future, climate policy and economic policy should always be thought together. This is the only way to achieve a sustainable, promising, competitive economic policy. And it will be the very big challenge to catch up in this large Ministry of Economy and Climate, which we have to catch up in terms of energy policy, but also in terms of climate policy.
Does Habeck have the right tools for this? Will he succeed?
Habeck has perhaps the greatest task of all in this coalition, and it will have to be observed very closely what conditions are really present. He is now starting to build up his ministry, with proven strengths. But it is still a task the republic may have never seen before. And it will be a true master’s examination for Habeck. There is still no telling whether he will really be able to achieve this with his previous experience. In any case, he has taken on the biggest board that is currently to be drilled in politics.
Lena Feuser spoke to Albrecht von Lucke