Robert Habeck has been Federal Minister of Economics and Vice Chancellor for almost a year. For a long time he was the most popular politician and was praised for his communication style. But now the former traffic light star is heavily criticized. Does it lack substance?
White shirt, tie slung loosely over one shoulder, restrained smile. When Robert Habeck visited Singapore a few days ago, he had himself photographed in this pose.
He presents himself as an easy-going, down-to-earth politician. As a maker. As someone who tackles.
There are also pictures showing the green Federal Minister of Economics on the plane. Sometimes he looks out the window, sometimes straight into the camera. Habeck is a man who likes to stage himself, so the means of transport opposed by his party can sometimes serve as a backdrop.
And he’s a politician who likes to talk. The Vice-Chancellor apparently openly quarrels with the harsh political reality and allows the audience to participate in his deliberations. Up until a few weeks ago, this scam seemed to work well. Habeck was popular with the Germans, and he took first place in the ZDF political barometer.
But times have changed. In the meantime, even Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) is more popular than the Greens. And according to the current RTL/ntv trend barometer, 53 percent of Germans are less or not at all satisfied with Habeck’s work.
“He has lost the communicative ease that distinguished him just a few months ago,” says Frank Brettschneider in an interview with FOCUS online. Brettschneider works as a political scientist at the University of Hohenheim, where he heads the Department of Communication Studies.
“In addition, Habeck’s style of communication has lost the appeal of the new and unusual. Now he’s being criticized for things he was praised for a while ago.”
The core of the communication style of the Greens is to describe not only the result of important consultations, but also the rocky road to get there. He takes her with him into his own conflict of conscience, at least that’s the impression he wants to give.
Habeck was interpreted very positively until the very end. For example, his trip to authoritarian Qatar and the bow to the energy minister there, Saad Sharida al-Kaabi, did not fall on the politician’s feet.
And this despite the fact that both contradict the principles of his party. Experts saw the reason in Habeck’s way of speaking about the topic.
“Visual, thoughtful, metaphorical,” says Brettschneider. In general, Habeck pays very close attention to how he presents himself in photos. That was also the case before he became Federal Minister.
Around 2017. Habeck was Minister of the Environment in Schleswig-Holstein at the time and was photographed with Prime Minister Daniel Günther (CDU). Both politicians sat in a meadow surrounded by horses.
Between 2012 and 2018, the Green was seen wading barefoot through the mudflats several times. Habeck, the nature boy. That fitted in with his position at the time, with the values of his party and also perfectly with his PR strategy.
Today, the studied philosopher is still more relaxed than most of his counterparts. He is often seen without a tie, and in May Habeck even came to the Bundestag with a T-shirt and a jute bag.
But the casual demeanor and the open way of communicating are no longer so well received by the Germans. It is clear that Habeck’s ministry is one of the most important – if not the most important – department in the energy crisis.
This is where it will be decided how Germany will get through the winter. And this is where competence matters. Doubts are growing as to whether Habeck can do justice to his task. Finally, his ministry made some technical mistakes, for example with the gas levy.
The concept, which was intended to stabilize stumbling gas importers, fueled resentment because companies that are doing well economically could also have benefited from it.
Even in the traffic light coalition, there were MPs who found the gas levy “extremely problematic”. Ultimately, the project, which should have supported all gas customers, was scrapped.
The outcry was similarly loud when Habeck announced that only two of the three nuclear power plants still in operation would be kept online until the end of March 2023. After all, not only gas but also electricity prices have increased massively.
And experts from the energy sector don’t leave a good hair about the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs’ latest plans either. The municipal utility association VKU, for example, told the “Bild” newspaper on Friday that the planned gas price brake would not be able to start before March.
The technical conversion is too complicated. FDP energy expert Michael Kruse complained that the electricity price brake is hampering the expansion of renewable energies. In addition, it is unclear how intentional electricity price increases by suppliers can be prevented.
This criticism calls into question what is now so important: Habeck’s competence as Federal Minister of Economics. Is there not enough substance behind its beautiful packaging?
In any case, CDU leader Friedrich Merz already complained in a speech in the Bundestag at the beginning of September that Habeck was an economics minister “whom we can watch thinking again and again”. And yet the Green is “helpless” when it comes to important economic issues.
The opposition politician received heckling from the traffic light factions for these statements. What is clear, however, is that Habeck’s first year as Economics Minister will probably not end the way the Greens had imagined.
“Criticism of Habeck’s politics has now overshadowed earlier assessments of his communication style. Today, the focus is on mishaps for which he shares responsibility in the federal government – especially in relation to energy policy,” says Brettschneider.
The political scientist Astrid Séville, who researches at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, told the “Deutschlandfunk Kultur” in October that “major technical errors” had been made in the gas levy.
However, she also sees Habeck as “great food” for the opposition and journalists. “He was the most popular politician, was traded as a candidate for chancellor, so of course it makes sense to criticize him,” said Séville.
In her eyes, Habeck’s communication style, i.e. the direct weighing of different options for action, also makes him particularly vulnerable. Contradictions are communicated openly, not hushed up.
“Sometimes it seems unprepared, like ad hoc crisis management,” says Séville. “Some things make you wonder: Why isn’t this prepared, why isn’t there a plan B in the drawer?”
This may be due to a lack of competence. However, Germany – like many other countries – is in an exceptional situation because of the Ukraine war. There are indeed many unknowns.
In this difficult political situation, decisions are often not as easy as they might seem. Will Habeck still be doomed by the energy crisis? According to Brettschneider, that cannot be said.
Ratings can change quickly, especially in times of crisis. The example of the Economics Minister shows this clearly.
“After the brilliant up, Habeck now experienced a rapid downfall. One day it’s ‘Hosanna!’ and the next day ‘Crucify him!'” says the political scientist. “That’s where Habeck is now. But his resurrection is not excluded.”