Economic researcher Manfred Hübner has accused the federal government and Economics Minister Robert Habeck of failing in the energy crisis. Has the gas price cap changed its mind? Only partially, says Hübner. Unfortunately, the fear of de-industrialization in Germany is still real, he says in an interview with FOCUS online.

On Monday, Manfred Hübner, managing director of the economic research institute Sentix, accused the federal government of failure in the energy crisis, described the state of German industry as “catastrophic” and noted such a bad mood among entrepreneurs as last seen at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. Because at the same time the future expectations of the companies were worse than ever before, Hübner wrote to Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) that politicians had “been relieved of their duties for less”.

Now that the federal government’s Gas Commission has presented its draft gas price cap, we spoke to Hübner about whether he thinks the situation has improved and how he sees the future of the industry.

More on the subject: Economics professor demands – “Politics should dissolve all old gas contracts”

FOCUS Online: Mr. Hübner, you have severely criticized the federal government and especially Economics Minister Robert Habeck for their energy policy. Now comes the gas price cap. Does the decision improve your image of the government?

Manfred Hübner: The gas price cap is a pragmatic solution that initially alleviates the need and relieves consumers. I don’t want to criticize that. But because it won’t take effect until spring, citizens still have to be prepared for tight budgets. That will severely dampen the economy.

In addition, the price cap does not solve the fundamental problem that we continue to head for the best heralded recession of all time. Supply insecurity remains, companies are becoming more dependent on the state and consumers are less likely to save. Also, at some point, someone will have to pay the debt that the price cap creates. It is a sensible measure. But it has its price.

So you expect the mood in the industry to stop darkening rather than brightening?

Hübner: If you’re already on the ground, you can’t slide any lower. It may even go up slightly in the near future. But we expect a very persistent downturn that we will have to deal with at least for the whole of the coming year.

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Compared to the financial crisis and the corona pandemic: how bad will the downturn be?

Hübner: Much more difficult than we are used to from earlier downturn phases in the past 30 years.


Hübner: Because politicians lack the means to counteract quickly. Economic downturns are usually caused by low customer demand. In 2008 the crisis was triggered by the financial market and intensified by the housing market. States were able to counteract this with interest rate cuts and lots of money; Companies have been able to lower their prices. However, we are currently experiencing a supply shock due to the expensive energy, in that these funds do not help: we cannot get more gas, no matter how much money we pump into the market. So companies need to save energy and money. Some heat office buildings and halls two degrees colder. Others are shutting down their German locations. The latter then remain permanently absent.

This breaks the business of umpteen service providers who have been stuck at these locations. This isn’t a dent that will go away again in three or four months. These are permanent decisions that will eventually reach the labor markets and salaries despite short-time work. Then consumers go out to eat less often, buy smaller cars and save on one or the other purchase. Once this development has become ingrained, it is very, very difficult to overcome.

However, demand is still strong.

Hübner: Demand is only slowly adjusting to the falling supply because people still have a lot of money left over that they couldn’t spend during the corona pandemic. Only over time do they realize how the price hike is constraining their finances. However, if demand falls at some point, companies may not reopen closed production facilities because there are no sales opportunities. This further reduces demand. That’s why we fear that we won’t experience a downturn like after the financial crisis from 2007 or during Corona, when the economy came back quickly. We fear that our prosperity will be permanently damaged.

Do you fear a de-industrialization of Germany?

Hübner: Unfortunately, this fear is real. In all energy-intensive and energy-dependent sectors, Germany is likely to be viewed even more critically as a location for future investments.

Also interesting: In Groningen in the Netherlands – Europe has a huge gas field – but cannot use it

What did Robert Habeck and the federal government do wrong to make it come to this?

Hübner: Habeck and the federal government seem to be under the misconception that the economy will recover from the current crisis as quickly as it did after the Corona crisis. At that time, many companies, especially in the service sector, temporarily went out of business. But I can reactivate services very easily. Production, on the other hand, largely ran through even during Corona. Now we’re talking about sustained shutdowns or shutdowns of production for reasons of economy. Such companies are gone and will not come back at the push of a button.

What are your demands from politicians?

Hübner: There must be no taboos now. The situation has never been so bad and at the same time the expectations even worse. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. The government underestimates that. I think it would send an important signal if it overcame its ideological constraints and did everything possible to alleviate the supply problems, especially in the energy market.

What do you mean specifically?

Hübner: We have a shortage of energy. There is only one answer to this: Politicians must set all sources in motion immediately. The fact that the operating times of the existing nuclear power plants were not immediately extended was absurd and must change as soon as possible. I am also in favor of checking whether we can bring the reactors that were shut down the year before back online for a limited time.

It is also unacceptable that we obtain fracking gas from the USA, which is transported by ship across the sea, is first liquefied and then deliquesced again, while ignoring German fracking gas. At least some of that would have been available this winter if you had been open to it in the spring. The USA has a large gas production. But there, too, demand from Europe is increasing prices and there have already been reports of gas shortages. If it becomes too expensive on its own market, the USA will no longer sell its gas to us. We need more security of supply. If we have our own sources and these can be extracted economically and in an environmentally friendly manner, this must also be taken into consideration.