Criticism of Robert Habeck now comes from all sides, even from circles that are used to restraint: the established economy. The focus: the federal government’s relief plans, but also personal statements by the minister.
The appearance of a Federal Minister of Economics at the Federal Association of German Employers’ Associations is usually, if not a feel-good appointment, then at least a civilized affair, characterized by mutual understanding. Not so this year.
“These are truly historic times,” said Employer President Rainer Dulger diplomatically at the start. But it already resonates with what is driving the economy these days beyond the almost usual questions of bureaucracy, tax levels or collective agreements. The latest survey by the economic research institute ZEW bursts right in the middle.
Its economic index is accelerating its descent: With minus 61.9 index points, the Mannheim researchers determine the worst outlook since the financial crisis almost 15 years ago. This corresponds to the latest data from the Munich ifo Institute. The Employer President sees no trend reversal far and wide: “We are running into a recession”.
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Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) opposes this inventory: “If the data is updated in this way, we will run into a recession. But a recession isn’t a thunderstorm coming our way – and we can only decide, do we have an umbrella or do we run.”
Before his appearance with the employers, Habeck had announced in talks with medium-sized companies that energy price support would also be made available to trade and service providers, and not just to industry.
It’s all piecemeal, according to business circles. In view of the extent of what is happening in Germany, a well-rounded concept must be developed, and above all quickly.
Fundamental criticism of the work of the Economics Minister had already been sparked by the inconsistencies of the so-called gas levy, which is to be handed out to gas importers who have come under pressure – paid for by all consumers. The levy has been under discussion for weeks, with no solution in sight.
In constant – and confidential – talks, entrepreneurs explain to the minister the consequences of skyrocketing energy prices and other rising costs – but from their point of view nothing drastic is happening. Instead of resorting to simple, effective means, politicians get bogged down in ever new ideas and bureaucratic projects, which sometimes even work against each other.
Also this time at the Employers’ Day, the minister has above all nice plans, for which he will now appoint a commission. On the other hand, the entrepreneurs point to the high consumption taxes on energy: Reducing these taxes and the additional VAT is easy, has an immediate effect and saves a lot of bureaucracy.
Above all, the associations of family entrepreneurs see the clock on “five to twelve” as far as the burdens are concerned. The decision to practically shut down the three nuclear power plants still in operation in Germany at the turn of the year met with complete incomprehension.
For ideological motives, according to a representative of the association, an opportunity to at least slow down the rise in electricity prices a little is being wantonly given up. The same assessment is now being expressed by the minister’s most important advisory body, the so-called Five Wise Men. They urgently demand a move away from ideological and other blockages. A swatter for the minister.
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Ironically, those medium-sized companies that have always been considered conservative and reserved now seem to be on the verge of taking to the barricades.
Angry protests were recently triggered by Habeck’s appearance on a television talk show, in which he spoke of companies that could stop producing without slipping into bankruptcy – using the example of a baker who could no longer offer competitive products.
The reactions, not only from the bakery trade, were devastating for the Federal Minister of Economics – small business owners felt that they were being made fun of. Several craft representatives turned to the ministry in armored letters of protest. It was said that one no longer had confidence in Habeck’s competence.
The tissue paper manufacturer Hakle, which recently went bankrupt, is now losing patience and publicly blamed the lack of government support from the energy cost containment program for slipping into insolvency.
According to entrepreneur Volker Jung, the money to which they were entitled was not paid out due to repeated bureaucratic delays. It’s in the millions. He applied for it back in July. However, the ministry cited “missing documents” as the reason for the delay.
However, the bureaucratic objection cannot calm the numerous companies that are struggling with insolvency: in sectors such as iron foundries, glass production, paper mills and cement manufacturers, many are on the brink.
The lost trust is underpinned by a representative survey by the research institute Insa: According to this, only a third of those surveyed believe that Robert Habeck is doing a good job (34 percent). 49 percent, on the other hand, attest to poor performance.
Entrepreneurs certainly also know that many developments are simply not the responsibility of a German federal minister. What is increasingly missing, however, is a clear and target-oriented concept in addition to encouraging speeches by the Federal Chancellor or the Minister for Economic Affairs.
On the contrary – while numerous companies are struggling to survive, commissions are working, working groups are meeting, the Ministry of Social Affairs is tinkering with new regulations with further burdens on the economy: the planned citizens’ benefit will, for example, exacerbate the shortage of workers, it is said. Actually, now is the time for a policy from a single source – but there is nothing to be seen far and wide.