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German Economy Minister Robert Habeck: “We Have Gained Control Over the Crisis”

  • January 14, 2023

DER SPIEGEL: But did you not ultimately foist too heavy of a burden onto the population? Not everyone is handling the challenge equally well.

Habeck: The high prices are extremely difficult for a lot of people, which is why we put together the large relief packages. The brakes on electricity and natural gas prices will show their effect this year. But despite the burden, people have demonstrated that they are capable of great solidarity. That contravenes the narrative that Germans have about themselves: That we are all just individualists who think only about ourselves. No, people are prepared to make due with less so that we as a country get through this in good shape. The country can mobilize great strength. Still, I am bothered by the fact that some members of the young generation appear to be losing hope.

DER SPIEGEL: How have you arrived at that conclusion?

Habeck: Twenty-somethings these days are really thinking about whether they want to have children. It is a debate that I know from my own youth. It was gone for 30 years, but now it’s back. It’s understandable, the climate crisis has become reality.

DER SPIEGEL: The hopes of many of these young people were pinned on politicians like yourself. And now they are realizing: Even with the Green Party as part of the government, Germany is going to fall short of its climate goals.

Habeck: Let’s wait and see. The numbers are preliminary. We currently have 8.8 gigawatts more of coal-fired power online than originally planned, as part of our effort to ward off a natural gas shortage. Still, we are already seeing that the expansion of renewable energies works, as do measures to save on energy consumption.

DER SPIEGEL: What, then, is your message to the younger generations? Last year was an exception, and now we are back on the climate protection track?

Habeck: The focus is now on making a decisive difference in the coming years so that the country is climate neutral by 2045. By then, the young people about whom we are speaking will perhaps have started a family. They will have to live with the consequences of the past. Today, we have to take steps to safeguard their future freedoms.

DER SPIEGEL: What does that mean for your policies?

Habeck: To invest all our strength in accomplishing the transformation of our energy system. That’s my job. But from the point of view of society, there is even more at stake: People must be able to have faith that the entire country responds to their concerns and needs. And last year showed us that such a thing is possible. That it is possible to take a step forward even if it might be a bit painful. That we don’t just go for a jog, but are prepared to run a marathon and deal with the pain that involves. If we, as a society, were able to brave the gas crisis, then we can also be successful in curbing the climate crisis. This experience will hopefully strengthen faith in democratic participation and engagement.

DER SPIEGEL: Yet there are currently significant protests, primarily driven by young climate activists, in Lützerath, the village just west of Cologne that is to be razed to make way for an open-cast coal mine. Doesn’t that show that this faith you are talking about is no longer there, particularly not in your party?

Habeck: Young people have the feeling that the generations that came before them are making their lives difficult. They are frustrated that everything is going so slowly. I can totally understand that. And protests need symbols and places. There continue to be many good reasons to demonstrate for more climate protection, even against the Green Party as far as I’m concerned. But Lützerath is the wrong symbol.


Habeck: Lützerath is the last place in the Rhine region that will have to make way for lignite mining. As such, Lützerath is not a symbol that open-cast lignite mining is continuing as before, it marks the end. We have pushed up the phaseout of coal in the Rhine region by eight years, to 2030. That has always also been a goal of the climate movement. And for good reason. For my part, I certainly don’t want to blindly place my faith in the market taking care of everything and that the coal-fired power plants will go offline on their own. The agreement allows us to plan for the future. Because of that, investments are now being made in climate-neutral energy supplies, in hydrogen-fired power plants. Yes, two coal-fired power plants belonging to (the electric utility company) RWE are going to be left online for a bit longer than originally planned. That isn’t something I’m proud of, but it is unavoidable because Putin is waging war against Ukraine, and we are having to face up to the resulting energy crisis. And yes, we were unable to save the uninhabited village of Lützerath, though I have to point out that the razing was approved long before the phaseout agreement and authorized by the courts.

DER SPIEGEL: Still, there is a bitter aftertaste: Lignite mining is continuing despite the Green Party being a part of the government.

Habeck: We have saved five villages and farms with around 450 inhabitants. The Hambacher Forest is safe. The amount of coal authorized for exploitation through open-cast mining has been halved by the agreement.

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