The good news first: the economics minister, who pursued his literary inclinations before becoming minister, has finally understood what the economic hour has come. In the interview he speaks plainly about our interests. The bad news: It’s not about Habeck, but about his French colleague.
Minister, Europe is in a difficult situation, energy shock, inflation, possible recession in 2023 – where do you see the greatest risks?
“The real risk for Europe is that it will be left behind as an industrial location. The European Union currently accounts for 17 percent of the world economy, up from 25 percent in 1990. China now accounts for 17 percent of the world economy, but in 1990 it was only 3 percent. So the real European risk is a technological, industrial and economic setback that would leave the global economy to the United States and China.”
What exactly do you have in mind?
“Our industry is already suffering from a competitive disadvantage from the difference in energy prices between the US and Europe. The massive subsidies that the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is now envisaging threaten to widen the gap even further. I demand a coordinated, united and strong response to our American allies.”
How specifically should the EU react to the US?
“We expect resolute proposals from the EU Commission – for example, to pay more attention to our interests in environmental protection when importing, or rules to give preference to European products. In addition, it is imperative that we lower energy prices in Europe.”
Are we running into a subsidy race?
“We reject a subsidy race. In some cases, however, the subsidies offered by the US government are four to ten times the maximum state support allowed by the European Commission here. Our first estimates are: Investments of ten billion euros and thousands of industrial jobs are at stake.”
Is there a need for a lawsuit against the USA at the WTO?
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.
“Europe must defend its interests. Nobody is giving the Europeans anything, neither China nor the USA. The crucial question is this: do we want Europe to remain one of the three great economic powers of the 21st century?”
The bad news follows. This clear-sighted Minister of Economics, who is oriented towards European interests, is not called Robert Habeck, but Bruno Le Maire. He doesn’t live in Berlin, but in Paris. The only thing they have in common is their love of literature. Bruno Le Maire has also published several books of fiction, which means that the profession of writer can be considered rehabilitated.
In the case of Habeck, it’s not his past as a children’s book author. It is his increasingly apparent narrowing of his worldview that obscures his view of the global shift in power and wealth. The world of business has remained alien to him, which is why he distrusts it.
Representing German and thus European business interests is not his thing, as people around Habeck would put it. He probably thinks the decline of German industry is ecological – fight climate change! – and historically – Europe first! – even for bid.
The fact is: Habeck watches without a fight as Europe’s largest economy loses ground. The hastily borrowed billions that it is now dumping across the country do not alter the structural shift we are witnessing. And which he does not address in Brussels, Washington or Beijing. Our economics minister seems to have got stuck mentally in the German gas storage facility.
When it comes to national interests, Habeck – unlike Le Maire – is a quiet man. The man from France does politics with profiled soles, the other seems to be on the road with a Birkenstock. In the USA, where Germany and France are being boiled off as part of the energy price crisis, Habeck’s footprint cannot be seen or felt.
He prefers to rub shoulders with Finance Minister Christian Lindner than with the major economic powers. For the most obvious decision in the world, the continued operation of the three German nuclear power plants, he needed instructions from the Chancellor. He, in turn, took business leaders with him on his trip to China, but not the Minister of Economics. Scholz knows why.
Conclusion: There are many ways to betray German and French interests in the global game of economic powers. Habeck’s silence is the most effective. Interests are also betrayed by ignoring them.
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Hasan Alkas is a professor of microeconomics with a focus on international markets, he was an advisor to the Minister of Transport and Communications in Turkey for several years and worked at the European Commission in industrial policy. He loves Germany, but he ruthlessly exposes Germany’s weaknesses.
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