In the current crisis, Robert Habeck is hopelessly overwhelmed. With his politics, he serves the fears and reservations of his green core clientele – at the expense of the general public, from which, according to his oath of office, he should actually avert damage. He’s not up to the job.
First gaps in knowledge as big as lunar craters, then media criticism, followed by a crash in the opinion polls: Robert Habeck is going through the most difficult days of his political career.
He may have made the strategic mistake of his life by grabbing the Ministry of Economy. He remains a talented politician. He undoubtedly has a talent for languages. But as economics and energy minister in Europe’s largest industrial country, the former children’s book author is currently the wrong choice for the majority of Germans.
Now save articles for later in “Pocket”.
The multiple crises of the present – from inflation to the energy price explosion to the impending recession – are clearly taking the Vice Chancellor to the edge of his possibilities. Welcome to the age of overwhelm!
There are five things that have led to this awkward situation for the minister
1. He lacks the sender competence qua education and career. He – the children’s book author and translator of American poetry – missed it from the start. But that wasn’t particularly noticeable in an economy recovering from the pandemic. But now, in the midst of the worst energy price crisis and on the eve of a global recession, everyone can see, hear and feel it. Many facts read, but no deeper-seated expertise.
“You are not automatically insolvent, but you may stop selling,” says Habeck about the bakers, whose business is currently ruined by energy prices. For comparison: Ludwig Erhard, the ancestor of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, grew up as a child in his parents’ clothing store. The rhythm of income and expenditure was the blues of his youth. He was a minister from the economy for the economy.
2. Each position is about role-appropriate behavior. Merkel is Germany, summarized the rhetoric trainer Dr. Stefan Wachtel sums up the Chancellor’s sometimes demure but always serious appearances. In public she wasn’t Angela Merkel, the pastor’s daughter, the East German and she wasn’t even a woman first. She was the chancellor. She had melted into her role. And Habeck? It’s not economics. Habeck is always Habeck. It suits him, but it doesn’t suit his current role.
3. The prosaic language of Robert Habeck cannot unfold its effect in this situation, in which the prosperity of millions of people is noticeably endangered. As German Minister for Culture and Education, he would probably be an asset with his cosmopolitanism. Just like the legendary Jack Lang in France or the intellectual and later Zeit editor Michael Naumann – even if he only formally operated as Schröder’s Minister of State for Culture.
But in the current office, Habeck’s language and the audience’s expectations of precision do not go together. He doesn’t like facts. In tortuous explanations, as recently with Sandra Maischberger or at the Employers’ Day, Habeck tries to memorize what his ministerials have written down for him. In the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Kurt Tucholsky’s sentence applies to the minister: “There’s nothing that people are so proud of as what they’ve known for two minutes.”
4. Habeck does not deliver in this matter. His gas levy, with which he wants to snag 34 billion euros from 21 million gas customers, is extremely unfair. It exacerbates the emergency that the minister claims he wants to eliminate. At the same time, he wants to refuse electricity customers the feed-in of cheap nuclear power in the middle of winter. In doing so, he serves the fears and reservations of his green core clientele – at the expense of the general public, from which, according to his oath of office, he should actually avert damage.
5. Habeck is not a beacon in the fog of global insecurity. He does not provide a consistent assessment of the economic situation and suggests to Germans that he can dampen or even prevent the collapse of the economy and the effects of the energy price explosion. The sums of money required for this far exceed the possibilities of the state. The uncomfortable truth is this: The force of the economic upheavals is greater than the possibilities of the state. Habeck’s promises today are tomorrow’s disappointments.
Conclusion: Robert Habeck is not yet politically insolvent, but he is under a lot of pressure. If you want to be chancellor or even just a candidate for chancellor, you have to show what you’re made of. Or to paraphrase the playwright Franz Grillparzer:
“The bow only shows its power when it is bent.”
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.