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German Green Party’s Robert Habeck set to become economy minister

  • November 25, 2021

Green co-leader Robert Habeck is set to take over the Economy and Energy Ministry, whose portfolio is to be expanded into climate as well. This emerged when the three parties set to form Germany’s new coalition government presented their plans on Wednesday. 

The new center-left government will be headed by the Social Democrat (SPD), the Greens and the neoliberal FDP.

At Wednesday’s presentation, Habeck — who is tipped to become vice chancellor —  promised that the goverment cs contract would put Germany “on the path to 1.5 degrees” — meaning to cap the current rise in global warming at 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels, a goal many climate scientists already see as out of reach.

When Habeck announced Baerbock as the Green Party candidate for chancellor earlier this year, he was applauded for standing aside. He stood by Baerbock throughout her rocky campaign and sat through countless interviews where he was asked whether he would not have been the better candidate.

Since the election, he has come to the forefront andtaken on a pivotal role.

Habeck presented Baerbock as the Green Party’s candidate for chancellor in April

Indeed, Habeck has been extremely popular throughout his political career. Author and translator, politician and philosopher — with his tousled and unshaven look, he has always seems relaxed and approachable.

Habeck was in his early 30s when he joined the environmentalist Green Party in 2002. At that time, the Greens were junior partners to the Social Democrats in the German government. That coalition was ousted from power in 2005 at the beginning of what would come to be known as the Merkel era.

Before entering politics, Habeck looked destined for an academic career. He initially studied philosophy, German language and literature and philology before earning a master’s degree in 1996 and being awarded his doctorate in 2000. He also spent a year at Denmark’s Roskilde University, where he picked up fluent Danish.

People are often dazzled by his conversational grasp of philosophical matters. But there are others who are driven to distraction by what they see as his philosophical flippancy: his habit, for instance, of tossing quotes by great thinkers into a discussion.

Habeck initially earned a living as a writer, co-authoring detective stories and children’s books with his wife, Andrea Paluch. Together with their four sons, they live in Flensburg, the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. Germany’s northernmost city lies just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border with Denmark, in a region that is home to a strong Danish-speaking minority.

As the environment minister of the ‘windy state’ of Schleswig-Holstein, Habeck pushed for a profound energy shift

‘Bending in the wind’

Habeck’s political career really got going in 2012 when he was appointed as Schleswig-Holstein’s environment minister — a post he would hold for six years. During that time, he built a reputation as an easygoing, pragmatic Green politician who always had an ear for his SPD coalition partners, as well as for staunch conservatives in the farming community.

This gave the hands-on politician a platform for his efforts to push for a profound shift in Germany’s energy policy. As a “windy state,” Schleswig-Holstein is suited for wind power, and Habeck set for himself the tough task of winning people over to install giant wind turbines. And it seems he succeeded: From 2012 to 2016, the amount of wind energy generated in Schleswig-Holstein nearly doubled.

In 2017, the Greens in Schleswig-Holstein entered a new coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) and the neoliberal FDP. Habeck made the most of the alliance, becoming a close friend of Daniel Günther, the conservative leader of the coalition. That he could harmonize with others on the opposite side of the political spectrum is taken as further evidence of Habeck’s talent as a people person. This did, however, result in a limited backlash: Some core Green voters accused Habeck of bending too easily in the wind.

In early 2018,Habeck was voted in as one of the Green Party’s two co-leaders. Baerbock, his partner in office, also has an outstanding natural talent for politics. The party has a long tradition of co-leadership — but also toxic rivalries between two would-be partners, who each tend to represent opposite wings of the party.

But so far, Habeck and Baerbock have broken the mold, prioritizing pragmatism over ideological infighting. Harmony sells — and the party has profited.

This article has been translated from German and has been updated after the election to reflect latest developments.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    1980: Unifying protest movements

    The Green party was founded in 1980, unifying a whole array of regional movements made up of people frustrated by mainstream politics. It brought together feminists, environmental, peace and human rights activists. Many felt that those in power were ignoring environmental issues, as well as the dangers of nuclear power. 

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Attracting high-profile leftists

    The influential German artist Joseph Beuys (left) was a founding member of the new party. And its alternative agenda and informal style quickly attracted leftist veterans from the 1968 European protest movement, including eco-feminist activist Petra Kelly (right), who coined the phrase that the Greens were the “anti-party party.”

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Party ambiance at party meetings

    From the start the Green party conferences were marked by heated debate and extreme views. Discussions went on for many hours and sometimes a joyous party atmosphere prevailed.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Greens enter the Bundestag

    In 1983 the Greens entered the German parliament, the Bundestag, having won 5.6% in the national vote. Its members flaunted their anti-establishment background and were eyed by their fellow parliamentarians with a certain amount of skepticism.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Green Party icon Joschka Fischer

    Joschka Fischer became the first Green party regional government minister in 1985 when he famously took the oath of office wearing white sports sneakers. He later became German foreign minister in an SPD-led coalition government. And was vilified by party members for abandoning pacifism in support of German intervention in Kosovo in 1999.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Unification in a united Germany

    With German reunification, the West German Greens merged with the East German protest movement “Bündnis 90” in 1993. But the party never garnered much support in the former East Germany (GDR).

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved


    Today’s Green voters are generally well-educated, high-earning urbanites with a strong belief in the benefits of multicultural society and gender equality. And no other party fields more candidates with an immigrant background. The party focuses not only on environmental issues and the climate crisis but a much broader spectrum of topics including education, social justice, and consumer policies.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Turning conservative

    Environmental topics are no longer the exclusive prerogative of the Greens, whose members have morphed from hippies to urban professionals. Winfried Kretschmann personifies this change: The conservative first-generation Green politician became the party’s first politician to serve as a state premier. He teamed up with the Christian Democrats and has been reelected twice to lead Baden-Württemberg.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Celebrating harmony

    Party co-leaders Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock symbolize the new pragmatism and confidence of the Greens in the 2020s. They support the Fridays for Future movement and cater to the high number of new young party members who are not interested in the trench warfare between fundamentalists and pragmatists that marked the Green party debates of the early years.

    Author: Rina Goldenberg

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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