The fact that the Economics Day is not a home game for the Economics Minister is already clear from the welcome. Astrid Hamker, President of the Economic Council of the CDU, a CDU-affiliated business association with 12,000 members, bluntly criticizes the policies of Robert Habeck (Greens) even before his big appearance.
Despite the war in Ukraine, the economy’s energy supply must be secured – also by continuing to operate the last three nuclear power plants. “With the at least temporary continuation of our safe nuclear power plants and clean coal-fired power plants, we could above all reduce, if not avoid, new critical dependencies with some autocratic states in the Middle East,” says Hamker.
The hall in the Berlin Marriott Hotel, in which many rather older men are sitting, applauds enthusiastically. And Hamker adds: Germany maneuvered itself into becoming dependent on Russian gas, said Hamker – “when we surrendered to the political pressure of the Greens and decided to phase out nuclear power and coal almost simultaneously, without regenerative energies being marketable and sufficient at all were available”. Loud applause in the hall. The tone for the day is set. Apparently nobody is interested in the fact that it was the Union and SPD who decided to phase out nuclear and coal power.
The Business Day, which is one of the most important dates in the industry, takes place once a year. Formerly at the Adlon, now one size smaller at the Marriott. Entrepreneurs here have never welcomed a green economics minister. And before Habeck is allowed on the podium, CDU leader Friedrich Merz drives him a little in front of him.
He also calls for the nuclear power plants to be allowed to run longer. It should give food for thought that no other country has followed the German path in energy policy for ten years.
The 66-year-old also criticizes the Greens on trade policy. For months, the Union has been pushing the traffic light parties to submit the free trade agreement with Canada (Ceta) to a vote in the Bundestag. But the Greens would block. “That can hardly be surpassed in terms of inconsistency,” says Merz. With which country does Germany still want to trade, if not even with a liberal state like Canada.
Merz Habeck and the federal government also called for a change of course in China policy so as not to be left behind in the competition with the autocracies. “We must prepare to become more independent from China.”
Then Habeck is finally allowed on stage. He doesn’t linger long on the prefaces. Habeck paints a larger picture, that of a formative economic policy. He is undeterred by the expansion of renewable energies and green hydrogen, which is currently exceeding all expectations – not only in Germany. “We will experience a very rapid ramp-up of hydrogen from the Arab region,” says Habeck. The price of solar power is already significantly lower than that of natural gas. He ignores the demands for nuclear power.
Instead, Habeck outlines his task for the coming year: “Strengthening growth. We must not allow high inflation and high energy prices to lead to a permanent recession.” To this end, Habeck is having LNG terminals built under high pressure with the help of an acceleration law. This is a model for creative economic policy. Politics must also think more unconventionally when it comes to the shortage of skilled workers and the acceleration of planning. “Politics must be prepared to make mistakes,” says Habeck. For this he gets a round of applause. At the end of his speech he seems to have convinced the room.