Interview with Robert Habeck: “Price level will no longer be what it was before Putin’s war”

Robert Habeck is in Singapore at the 17th Asia-Pacific Conference of German Business. In the first part of the interview with, the Federal Minister of Economics spoke about the need to reduce dependency on China. But how attractive is Germany as a partner for countries in Southeast Asia? “Germany may not be as brilliant as it used to be,” says Habeck in the second part of the interview. The Green politician is still optimistic – also with a view to the energy price support from the federal government. One has to accept that these are “socially immature”.

German business is looking for new partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region this weekend. For this, Germany itself must be an attractive partner. What country are you representing at the Asia Pacific Conference in Singapore? Germany has delayed digitization and will be a high-priced energy country for years to come…

Wait! Of course, we have an acute problem at the moment because, firstly, because of Putin’s actions, Russian gas is no longer available – half of our gas consumption until recently – and secondly, about half of the French nuclear power plants are currently failing. That is why some neighboring countries produce electricity for France. This can currently be observed in Germany, so that the gas-fired power plants are needed even though gas is scarce. And yes, the price level will not be what it was before Putin’s war. But we are in the process of solving the problems behind the high prices step by step. This year we have set the course for the expansion of renewables at full speed. The availability of renewable energies has long since become a location factor.

And what image does Germany present technologically?

Even if we had to catch up on some digital issues, Germany has cutting-edge technology. In the industrial sector, we are setting new standards with the cloud projects Manufacturing-X and Gaia-X. When it comes to semiconductors, the cutting-edge technology is in Europe and the US, not in China. And we are seeing the first dynamics that technologies are being developed again in the field of renewable energies, for example in the domestic production of solar panels. Now, in this time of upheaval, in which we are particularly shaken by the effects of the Russian war of aggression, Germany may not be as brilliant as it used to be, but this shine was also based on cheap energy from Russia and cheap raw materials from China. That is why it is now a matter of getting the good substance of our economy through the crisis, strengthening the innovative power and making the economy more robust. If that works, I’ll be happy.

You point to France when it comes to energy prices, many people think more of the USA, on whose LNG gas Germany is now dependent. But there was no friendship discount. Rather, the impression was created that the US gas industry was profiting from the war at the expense of Germany. A topic for you?

That was it in the summer, but since then prices have fallen significantly again, albeit not to the pre-war level of Russian gas prices.

Keyword gas prices: By the end of next week, the energy suppliers should already report how many gas connections they have with what invoice amounts, so that the federal government pays the companies the planned reimbursement of the December deductions. Connoisseurs fear a gap for new scams here, because the reports from the suppliers can hardly be checked. Are you alarmed?

Together with the Chancellery and the Federal Ministry of Finance, we are currently making very complex laws under great time pressure in order to curb gas and electricity prices. The emergency aid, the price brakes, hardship funds will help tens of millions of people in the country, small and medium-sized businesses, industry, hospitals and social institutions. We lower the costs, we lower the pressure. We are spending many billions for this – and rightly so. And we do it as quickly and easily as possible. It cannot be ruled out that someone will try to take advantage of the situation to which they are not entitled. But just because there are some black sheep, we can’t leave the many white sheep out in the rain.

But we experience again and again that decisions made under time pressure produce errors.

The interventions that we carry out are very demanding. And yes, normally one would take the time for this. But this year is not a normal year. Putin brought war back to Europe. Inflation makes life difficult for many people, threatens livelihoods and jeopardizes businesses. We’re headed for a recession. Anyone who is not prepared to make decisions in this situation will not be able to survive. Simply waiting and not deciding – that would be the real mistake.

One of the ugliness of blanket solutions is that the gas price brake is paid out to every household. Utilities insist they have no way of categorizing consumers behind outlets to enable capping. So it stays with the watering can principle?

There is no denying that the Gas Price Commission’s proposal is socially immature. Everyone gets the same grants, even people who don’t need them. That’s because we don’t have the data on the connectors. The gas supplier does not know who or how many people live behind a gas meter. And I think that’s the right thing to do. It is not clear whether a large, empty villa is being heated or an apartment with many residents. And if we knew how many people live behind a connection, we would not yet know their income. Assuming we wanted to know all this, it would then take us years to set up a system that allows for graduated heating cost subsidies. So it’s better if we give out the money as a lump sum and balance it out socially a little through taxation. But the mouse doesn’t bite a thread: We accept social non-specificity so that we can help quickly. The alternative of spending years tinkering in the closet until the perfect system is there would be a bad one and not one bit fairer. Because the help would simply come too late.

The economic wise men strengthen the positions of the SPD and Greens and propose a higher burden on very large incomes and assets. You could create more balance, but you would have to convince the coalition partner FDP.

You can imagine how I feel about this proposal from the economists. The economists have also suggested letting the nuclear power plants run longer, and you also know how I feel about this. Christian Lindner and I talked briefly about the report and agreed with a smile not to read out to each other which suggestions we think are good. But we take note of that now.

Sebastian Huld spoke to Robert Habeck

source site-34