Shortly after taking office as Federal Minister of Economics, Habeck tackled the difficult issues, also banking on deregulation. Business representatives are initially enthusiastic about the Green politician. But skyrocketing energy prices put an abrupt end to this honeymoon phase.
"Without a plan", "dirigistic", "hesitant" - in business circles there is displeasure with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate (BMWK) and its Minister Robert Habeck. In discussions with more than a dozen business representatives, it has become apparent that the criticism does not only concern the energy crisis, but that nerves are now on edge on a whole range of topics. Even if there was applause for the gas price brake on Thursday, the cultures of the company managers who are concerned about their business and the green-led ministry, which wants to promote topics such as sustainability and human rights, obviously clash.
There have already been loud arguments, Reuters learned from those involved. "Increasingly, you first have to have discussions with BMWK representatives about how markets work," complains a company boss. These are new tones, after the economy was initially very impressed and relieved by the down-to-earth and problem-oriented minister. Habeck initially relieved the bosses of worrying about too much regulation. On the contrary, during the energy crisis he showed that he was pushing ahead with the planning and approval process for the expansion of wind and solar power.
But the longer the gas and electricity prices rose to unimagined heights, the more visible the differences became. The honeymoon phase between business and economics minister is over. "The Federal Minister of Economics started with a large vote of confidence from small and medium-sized enterprises. He used up a good part of that in the debate about security of supply and affordability of energy in Germany," says Markus Jerger, head of the BVMW association of medium-sized enterprises.
The criticism of the economy ignited on various points - the energy policy, dealing with China and arms export controls. Although the government finally presented a financing commitment for a gas and electricity price brake on Thursday, which industry associations welcomed - but the details of the amount of the price cap and the aid programs that are still necessary have not yet been clarified. And it was not the Economics Minister, but Finance Minister Christian Lindner, who boasted about the "moratorium on burdens" that the government has now promised business to avoid "disproportionate additional bureaucratic burdens".
At the same time, Habeck crashes in the polls. According to an Insa survey, only 34.9 percent of those questioned believe that he is the right person - 49.9 percent do not believe this. The Green politician had recently been at the top of the popularity scale. "He's actually very pragmatic, listens to the concerns," praises a top manager. Like most other company representatives, he does not want to be named. Companies and ministries are currently working together on so many construction sites that no CEO wants to engage in an open battle with the Green politician. However, behind closed doors there are complaints about a lack of decisions and "ideologically" appearing green management personnel in the ministry. "We are met with massive distrust," says a business representative.
According to several business representatives, the mood has changed because for weeks there was no clarity about the relief from the high gas and electricity prices - while France introduced a state-fixed industrial electricity price. In addition, there is the perceived chaos in the gas levy, which after a long wrangling is not implemented after all. The fact that economic aid was only briefly mentioned in the third relief package was not well received, especially by small and medium-sized enterprises. Because the Economics Minister is traditionally seen as the guardian of corporate concerns. What shouldn't be overlooked: the lobbyists in the various sectors are themselves under pressure from their member companies and for that reason alone have to move in the direction of Habeck.
The BMWK rejects the accusation and emphasizes that Habeck cannot act alone. Sometimes he has to wait for decisions in the EU. Sometimes it is Finance Minister Lindner who is holding up the necessary decisions by insisting on the debt brake. Conversely, a leading FDP politician complains: "Habeck presents new ideas every day, Lindner should find the money for them." There is also a certain degree of annoyance in other ministries about an economics ministry that is perceived as overactive.
The fact that Habeck publicly refers to the stress level of his officials in view of the ongoing crisis is also not well received in other parts of the government and the economy - because everyone is currently under massive pressure. Company officials accuse him of adding to the stress by bringing in a lot of inexperienced people. "We're talking to NGO representatives," sneers one company boss. The minister himself is ultimately responsible for this.
While Habeck is a driven man when it comes to energy policy, the ministry is perceived as "missionary" when it comes to China and armaments export policy, as one manager says. The idea of also wanting to review German investments in China in the future caused a lot of trouble - until it was apparently cashed in. They have nothing against the desire for greater diversification and are doing it themselves, say company representatives. "But the government should rather help us in our Asian business than badmouth our China business," demands one of them.
After all, according to one manager, Habeck promised the companies a dialogue about future China policy in a meeting last week. Habeck, who is said to have ambitions for the Green Party chancellor candidacy in 2025, is also under pressure from his party. The Greens want visible course corrections and an orientation of economic policy to human rights and ecological standards - especially since they have to swallow the longer use of coal-fired power plants and nuclear reactors.
Trouble also threatens in arms export policy. The Greens and the SPD Left have come out with the clear will to reduce arms exports. But Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has made it clear that European projects also have to be based on the looser rules of the partners. India could become a test case for Habeck: While the USA is currently negotiating with New Delhi to supply weapons in order to free the country from Russian dependence on military technology, the BWMK is, according to information from business circles, on the brakes.