Pensions, households and nuclear power: Not a day goes by without an argument at the traffic lights – and he is often the focus: Robert Habeck. What mistakes does he regret? Does he still dream of the Chancellery? And why does he like Söder less than Merz? 

The corridors in the ministry are quiet and empty on this Monday. The boss exuded optimism earlier at the tourism trade fair, but things are going better in the media that Annalena Baerbock doesn’t want to admit defeat on the chancellor question. We have one hour and six minutes to answer 78 questions. 

FOCUS: Mr. Habeck, on a scale of 1 to 10 – how annoyed did you wake up this morning?

Robert Habeck: Not at all! I woke up in an extremely good mood. So just a 0.5. 

Even though the argument at the traffic lights continues? Now the pension! Could this become a sticking point?

I am surprised that the dispute between the FDP and the SPD is now being played out so clearly. The pension package was unified. We in the Ministry of Economic Affairs had a few problems with it at the beginning because we were not immediately convinced by the debt-financed share pension. But ultimately we were able to live with the result.

And now the FDP is calling for a restriction on pensions at 63…

I understand and share the FDP’s goal of as many people as possible working at older ages. That’s why I advocate giving people stronger incentives to work when they could actually retire. This will now be discussed between the Federal Chancellor, the Finance Minister and me. There is a process for all open questions. 

You give Switzerland. Normally you and Mr. Lindner are quite at odds.

I wouldn’t say that. Triad constellations are never static. We have certainly discussed a lot in the climate and energy areas. But my work aims to hold the coalition together, and I want to do my part now. 

Could it be that this is once again primarily a symbolic dispute between the coalition partners?

I’m assuming everyone now has a serious concern, not just dribbling for the gallery. You can unite the different points of view. This is not so hard.

Not a day goes by without the question: How long will this chaos traffic light last?

This lasts until Election Day 2025. 

But never has a government been more unpopular. Haven’t you ever thought: It’s better not to govern than to govern badly?

Never! That’s really the most distant thought. Anyone who takes on political responsibility can and must shape things. That is the real goal that has always driven me. 

Does there have to be another Meseberg moment in which all three vow to persevere until the end?

I don’t see that anyone wants to cause a break. That would also be irresponsible given the phase we are in. 

You mean the war in Ukraine?

Germany and Europe are under pressure economically and also domestically. We are surrounded by radical forces, and they have also become stronger within Germany. Putin currently has the upper hand in Ukraine. Europe must continue to adapt to this threat situation. There will be elections in the USA in November. There must be stability and security for the liberal rule of law – all other questions should be secondary. 

At the moment the traffic light is living quite the opposite!

The government has a tendency to scandalize issues that it doesn’t like. Although they could easily be solved, they are brought to the media. This is not good. In fact, the problems are solvable. This requires the willingness of everyone to jump over their own shadows. 

Was the heating dispute a tipping point for this coalition?

There wasn’t one tipping point. Before the heating debate, we discussed the gas levy and also longer running times for the last nuclear power plants. The special fund for the Bundeswehr was also passed late. If there was a single tipping point, it was Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. 

From your point of view, the tipping point came two months after the traffic lights started?

The war changed many things. We called ourselves the “Progressive Coalition.” Then war broke out and security became the focus of our actions. Rightly so. As a government, we responded and solved enormous problems: filling the gas storage facilities. Renewable energies expanded, network expansion pushed forward. Incidentally, a large part of the problems that we had to solve were left to us by the grand coalition. 

In any case, the chaos surrounding the heating law was your personal tipping point as a political designer. Do you blame yourself?

I thought a lot about my role. And I have already admitted several times that mistakes were made, including by me. But it was during these years in particular that an incredible amount of work was carried out in the Ministry of Economic Affairs. We have undertaken a strategic realignment to make Germany more resilient – ​​in terms of energy supply, economic security and climate. An enormous number of laws, regulations and funding programs have been introduced – under great pressure and with little time. Would one actually prefer to have a Ministry of Economics again that does as little as possible – perhaps in the end nothing at all? 

One could heretically say: yes. The less government regulation, the better.

That is the thinking of those who say that the economy works best when there is no political support. The time is over when a liberal world market, a friendly China and a supportive Russia took care of all the political debates for us. We need to rethink economic security. If we face up to that, it means that politics cannot stay away from the economy. The economy has also experienced a turning point. An economics minister who only cuts a few red ribbons now and then is no longer able to meet the challenges.

But neither does an economics minister who makes serious mistakes. Last year, masses of oil and gas heaters were sold instead of heat pumps. That was also due to your handling.

…and 2023 was also a record year for heat pumps – 51 percent more were sold than in the previous year. Yes, the Building Energy Act was controversial, and yes, we struggled for the right pace and the right amount. But it would have been wrong to set climate targets like the grand coalition and then not act. The law will now take effect gradually. There is sufficient time for the transition and good support, which is increasingly being accepted. 

A quick lap. Mr. Habeck, what do you prefer: heat pump or fireplace?

I like it when wood crackles. 

Vegan schnitzel or zucchini?

I’m not a big zucchini fan. Then rather the schnitzel. 

Hugo Boss oder Birkenstock?

Als Sandalen Birkenstock. 

Annalena or Anton?


U2 oder Talking Heads?

U2. My favorite U2 song is “Every Breaking Wave”. There is the beautiful sentence: “It’s hard to listen while you preach.” Because you hear your own voice too loudly and then you no longer notice the nuances. 

Has this ever happened to you?

Berlin’s political scene is not the best place for nuances. The song is a constant reminder to listen carefully.

U2 also sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Where are you currently looking for growth for the German economy?

A large part of the problems can still be traced back to the Russian war of aggression. Gas crisis, high energy and production prices, inflation, a weak economy: that was an attack on the German economy – and Putin certainly planned it that way. Because he knows that the stability of our democracy also depends on the economy running smoothly.

Germany’s problems can’t just be traced back to Putin!

No, of course we also have structural problems: labor shortages, bureaucracy and the size of the capital market. A relevant problem that concerns me is too little investment. We need to mobilize more private capital to renew our economy and innovate. 

Critics accuse you of pursuing anti-industry policies.

I often have to defend myself against accusations that my politics are too industry-friendly. 

In any case, the Greens and the FDP are as far apart as possible. Christian Lindner considers government spending to be the work of the devil and you to be a savior. The eternal dispute paralyzes investors and Germany is losing competitiveness. Are traffic lights ruining our prosperity?

It may surprise you, but Christian Lindner and I both see the need to act. Less bureaucracy, securing skilled workers – an effective dynamization package is needed for the economy. Yes, of course there are also psychological reasons for the lack of investments. There may also be a sense of political uncertainty involved. We have to take this seriously. 

Should we pay more taxes?

We have a high tax burden on work. But relief here would have to be covered by income elsewhere as long as the debt brake is in effect. That will not happen this legislative period. 

Should we work more?

From an economic perspective, work performance must increase. But you have to differentiate. Not everyone can work 38 hours a week in every phase of life. People care for their relatives, continue their education, look after their families – there are good reasons for part-time work. But mothers can often work significantly less because there is often a lack of reliable and affordable childcare.

Actually applies to men too.

Yes, but in reality it is still predominantly women who work part-time, even if they would perhaps prefer to work more. When women take time off to care for children after giving birth, they lose one or two career steps and then earn less. This is not only unfair, but also bad from an economic perspective. We’re talking about the most educated generation of women we’ve ever had. We have to do everything we can to ensure that they can work as much as they want – and not as much as the care infrastructure currently allows. 

According to recent surveys, the Greens are at just 13 percent. Should your party name a candidate for chancellor?

We’re not having the debate now. 

But we would like to lead them.

The mood of the citizens is ambiguous. The debate about future concepts is completely open. We should do those first before we worry about surveys. 

The question of the candidate for chancellor is not about surveys, but about one’s own claim to power.

That’s exactly why I’m concentrating on the work that needs to be done at the moment. It’s about ensuring security and freedom, and I’m trying to do my part. 

You recently said: “There is an almost logical constellation” when it comes to the question of candidacy. What did you mean? Is Annalena Baerbock out of the race?

The logical constellation is: first the work, then everything else. 

But when Olaf Scholz says he’s looking forward to the election campaign against Friedrich Merz – are you looking forward to it too?

My goodness! At some point parties will have to make decisions, yes. But if you ask me how I get up in the morning: I certainly don’t have the question of the federal election campaign in mind.

Let’s do a second sprint: Your favorite phrase from Olaf Scholz?

HSV is promoted to the first Bundesliga. 

Friedrich Merz’s smartest sentence?

A tax return should fit on a beer mat 

That was long ago! Leipzig party conference 2003.

It is a symbol for the fact that many things in this country should be simpler, more digital and faster. We have already accelerated many procedures, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. 

Your most hated duty in the ministry?

Write emails with this security software – but it’s necessary. 

The most caustic headline of the past 30 days?

Melsungen beat Flensburg in the handball semi-finals. 

Oh what, you’re more into handball than football?!

Nope. Flensburg, my hometown, is only better at handball than football. 

But Kiel is promoted to the first Bundesliga.

As a boy I always played against Holstein Kiel and I didn’t think they were that good. But they seem to have worked out. Now I’m glad they’re top notch. What I was most pleased about was the player Lewis Holtby saying: “I think we are Bayern Munich’s feared opponents.” 

But we were surprised by something else about your response to the most caustic headline.


That all the reports accusing you of lying about the nuclear dispute didn’t go through your head. It has been said for weeks that your company concealed information and switched off the heaters against the advice of the energy companies.

No, that didn’t bother me. This is normal political business. 

Oh well. The former E.on supervisory board chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley confirmed that you were talking nonsense. That is normal?

My view of the whole thing was a pragmatic one: at the beginning of the war we asked whether a longer term was necessary and feasible for security of supply. The operators have named technical possibilities, but also hurdles and conditions: These included that no additional electricity could be generated for the winter of 2022/23 because the fuel elements had run out and there would be no new ones anytime soon. This can be found in a protocol agreed with the operators – including E.on – and published since March 2022. That’s the main reason why we came to the conclusion that continued operation didn’t make sense because it wouldn’t have helped in the winter of 22/23. Later, the situation on the energy markets became more serious. Russia had cut back on gas deliveries, the French nuclear power plants were barely producing any electricity, and the Rhine was dry. And E.on then said in the summer that they could generate more electricity in the winter. We have responded to these changes and extended the terms until mid-April 2023. 

Kley says that it would have been logistically and technically feasible to continue operating the nuclear power plants.

Yes, and the operators have also set conditions for this, namely that the state should take on a quasi-owner role if the plant continues to operate for a longer period, that the level of safety testing should be reduced, or that extensive retrofitting should be avoided. Incidentally, since the final nuclear phase-out, prices and CO₂ emissions have fallen significantly. None of the doom-mongering scenarios have come to pass.

The Union continues to call for a committee of inquiry. Your accusation: files were blacked out.

This is one of the rights of opposition parties in a democracy. 

Your critics accuse you of being an ideologue. Does that affect you?

No. I didn’t become a minister because I believed that Jens Spahn would praise me, but rather in the knowledge that he was constantly looking for a fly in the ointment somewhere. This is completely right. 

…but it costs trust from people.

This blame game doesn’t help anyone. I try to make it my point to recognize and respect the interests of the opposition, companies or associations. We should try to enter a world where we don’t constantly throw templates at each other. 

Companies and associations like to hear gossip about the children’s book author who knows nothing about business. Does the criticism also reach you?

I have extremely close and good contacts with many associations and entrepreneurs. We’re talking about real problems, intensive, approachable, sometimes controversial, but focused on solutions. 

The fact is: for many entrepreneurs you are an irritant, the bogeyman who is driving economic policy in a devastatingly wrong direction.

I don’t come across this kind of polemic in my conversations. But of course companies have wishes, often financial ones, that I can’t always fulfill. Money is just finite. And there are certainly debates in which we give different answers. But there are also very different perspectives in the economy. 

For example?

For example, when it comes to the question of what we have to do to ensure the security of the German economy. Is every Chinese investment good for Germany if it is good for a company? I doubt it. Do we need to protect certain areas so that they are not sucked dry by system competitors? I say yes. But of course this is an intervention in the market. I admit that. 

So you’re saying you have to protect the German economy from China?

I mean: German prosperity. 

Now US President Joe Biden has drastically increased tariffs for China on solar cells and semiconductors, for electric cars from 25 to 100 percent. Should the EU follow suit?

The EU Commission is currently conducting an anti-subsidy investigation into imports of electric vehicles from China. We’ll wait and see and then draw our conclusions.

But in your opinion, when is market intervention necessary? Mercedes, as a German industrial icon, not only has the most important market in China, but also a major Chinese shareholder. At some point the company may move from Stuttgart to Shanghai. Should politics then intervene?

The automotive industry is a key sector for Germany. And we are working politically to ensure that it is preserved here and has a secure future. 

Nobody intervened with photovoltaics…

Yes, most panels today come from Chinese production. That’s not nice. That’s why the EU is now taking action against this with the Net Zero Industry Act, so that at least some of it is produced in Europe. This is also our strategic goal when we promote semiconductor production in Germany. 

The biggest competitive disadvantage for Germany as a location remains the high electricity prices, even if they have now fallen…

…wholesale trade at pre-crisis levels. This did not fall from the sky, but was politically engineered…

…but the price is still far higher than in Texas, China or Australia. Do we need the industrial electricity price cap?

The electricity price on the stock exchanges is now partly below our suggestion of six cents/kWh, and with electricity price compensation it is even significantly lower for many electricity-intensive processes. At that time we proposed financing the industrial electricity price from the economic stabilization fund – this no longer exists since the Federal Constitutional Court’s ruling. Counter-financing would have to come from the normal budget. 

…which can never be done with the FDP.

True. The economy knows the reasons for my no. 

Why do you believe so strongly in the healing power of subsidies?

I’m not a fan of subsidies at all, I’m just a realist. We are facing tough economic policy competition and must do more for robustness, growth and investment opportunities in Germany. Global competition is also fought out through subsidies – from China to the USA. Take the Inflation Reduction Act, which means massive government aid. And of course we have to improve the framework conditions at the same time. Yes, a lot of things have to be faster. But we’ll take care of that. 

Germany is expanding a hydrogen network, electricity grids and renewables – are you asking the country to do too much at the same time?

I would have been very happy if someone had done the job before me. But the only thing the previous government left behind is a law that says: We must be climate neutral by 2045. That’s it! It wouldn’t have been forbidden to plan a hydrogen network. But the expansion of renewable energies was deliberately strangled by the grand coalition. The expansion of the electricity grid has been delayed. 

Why should those responsible have done that?

Because it’s uncomfortable to hold your head for it! It was always the worst during the summer holidays. Then some members of parliament, ministers and state secretaries went home – there are always local elections somewhere – and then they said: “You, a power line is supposed to go through here. I can’t sell that to my people.” Nobody explained: “Yes, you have to.” They preferred to say after the holidays in Berlin, plan again around village X or Y. 

You recently described Germany’s economic growth of 0.2 percent as “dramatically bad.” Christian Lindner spoke of “embarrassing”. You are responsible for that!

These numbers cannot satisfy anyone. Even if we see that things are slowly improving again. That’s why we’re working on the structural challenges. One thing is clear: growth leads to prosperity and is ultimately the guarantee of democratic stability. 

Because populism thrives primarily on necessity?

There are various reasons for populism. Uncertainty due to external threats. The heated debate on social media. And certainly also that people have less because of high inflation, especially lower-income households. For many people, the heating bill has eaten up birthday presents, vacations or little joys. It is the oldest political knowledge: experiences of existential loss lead to radicalization. 

Why do studies show that so many young people tend to support the AfD?

The mood in the country is changing. On the one hand, I see a high willingness to get involved. Think of the spontaneous demonstrations when the AfD’s deportation fantasies became public. 

And on the other side?

…I experience a lot of concern among young people. During Corona, entire cohorts experienced isolation and loneliness. Then came the war in Ukraine and of course global warming, which many perceive as a threat to their existence, which it is. 

Meanwhile, concerns about climate change seem to be fading into the background.

In any case, it is not at the forefront of public debates at the moment. When people are shocked because war breaks out in Europe, their first thought is not: How do I convert my car to e-mobility? That’s obvious. 

Then other problems are more important?

We would be making a mistake if we took the climate crisis less seriously. She has not let up in her urgency. The challenges have become even more economically urgent because the other major economic areas have fully started the race for green technologies. China with solar panels, electric cars and probably soon wind turbines. The USA with green hydrogen, electrolysis, solar production. Our prosperity and security depend on whether and how we master the race. 

But the appeal of the climate movement is waning. Its icon Greta Thunberg is now known primarily for her anti-Semitic slogans.

Moment! The German Fridays for Future movement has clearly distanced itself from all anti-Semitic undertones. But all movements change, new things emerge, only one thing is certain: the climate issue will remain. I even think it will come back with greater force. The seas have heated up more this year than all forecasts predicted. Have we actually passed a tipping point? The researchers can’t explain it. 

One last quick round: What do you like better… Berlin or Flensburg?

Both have something. But I am at home in Flensburg. 

Storm surge or sunshine?

I come from the north. I’ll take the storm surge. 

Company car or bicycle?

Unfortunately, my reality is now driving a lot. 

Merz or Söder?

This is not a category of “dear”, but in the past Mr. Söder has sometimes denigrated people so much that I can clearly say “Friedrich Merz”. 

What do you mean specifically?

To put it nicely, I found it incorrect to associate Steffi Lemke with the SED dictatorship. Or comparing Ricarda Lang to a bitch. You do not do that. 

The mood in the country is increasingly aggressive. When did you first notice that something was slipping? With the farmers in Schlüttsiel?

Earlier! I would say: in the summer of 2022. The situations weren’t particularly threatening back then, but I remember heated events where support for Russia was loudly promoted and the fact that Russia was actually trying to undermine our democratic order with money was completely ignored . 

Do you consistently report threats and insults?

We file criminal charges if there is criminal relevance. 

Should there be harsher penalties for this?

We see local politicians and members of parliament being threatened, attacked and beaten. The state must take decisive action against this. It is therefore necessary to check whether the rules are sufficient. And faster punishments are needed. A small fine a long time later? That doesn’t do anything. 

How threatening do you see the election campaign?

As a federal minister you have a huge apparatus that protects you. When I do events, there is security on site, police officers, helpers. It’s not always funny what front-line federal politicians have to endure, but the real pressure isn’t on us. 

But where?

In local politics, in state politics, in the people who are running at the bottom of the European list. They experience hate unprotected. It doesn’t matter whether it hits the Greens, SPD or CDU. AfD politicians are also physically attacked. I have no sympathy for this party, but the right to expression applies to everyone. 

How to obtain it?

By fighting together with all our might against these attacks. They are an attempt to destroy the space for public opinion. If this is successful, in the future we will no longer have people who get involved at local political level or put their name on an electoral list. In the end, no one supports the shooting club, the fire department, or the marching band anymore. 

And then?

Let me put it positively: democracy depends on the people who stand up for it. Protecting this commitment is an existential task for our democratic state.