Analysis of the Vice Chancellor’s role – He breaks taboos and throws principles overboard: This is how the Habeck principle works

Analysis of the Vice Chancellor’s role: He breaks taboos and throws principles overboard: This is how the Habeck principle works

He is responsible for a department in which the problems just pile up. He has already broken numerous green taboos. Nevertheless, Robert Habeck is currently one of the most popular politicians in Germany. How can that be? And will it stay like this?

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Almost a year and a half ago, Robert Habeck’s dream was shattered. On Monday, April 19, 2021, the Greens announced their candidate for chancellor. Or rather: her chancellor candidate. The federal board nominated Annalena Baerbock, Habeck got nothing.

“I wanted nothing more than to serve this republic as chancellor,” the Green admitted a little later in an interview with journalists from Die Zeit. Habeck described the day Baerbock was appointed chancellor candidate as the “most painful” of his political career.

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Habeck breaks green taboos – and is still popular

A lot of time has passed since then. Baerbock didn’t make it into the Federal Chancellery, but into the Foreign Ministry. Habeck is now climate minister and vice chancellor. But he could take it even further. At least if you believe current polls.

Because the Greens are currently more popular than any other German politician. A survey by the opinion research institute Forsa showed that 31 percent of Germans would choose Robert Habeck as Chancellor if they could elect the head of government directly.

That makes him the clear favourite. Incumbent Olaf Scholz (SPD) only gets 26 percent in the same survey. Also in the ZDF political barometer Habeck takes the top position, followed by his party and minister colleague Annalena Baerbock.

The results are amazing because Habeck has already broken numerous green taboos in his short time as climate minister. He flew to Qatar to negotiate gas deals. So in a country that the Greens actually condemn because of its human rights policy.

And he agreed to trade gas with the US, which extracts most of the raw material from fracking. A method that is considered extremely harmful to the environment and is not green at all.

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Habeck gives tips for saving energy

In Habeck’s Economics and Climate Protection Ministry, the problems are literally piling up. He has to answer the most pressing questions of many Germans. How do we get through the winter, how do we pay for our heating costs? And how do we replace Russian gas in the long term?

The 52-year-old has recently repeatedly called for saving energy and even gave personal tips. “I’m going by what my ministry recommends. I’ve significantly reduced my shower time again,” he said recently in an interview with “Spiegel”. He also heats sparingly in winter.

As a minister, Habeck deserves advice that one might find presumptuous much better than many others. Advice that fuels the negative image of the Greens as a ban and renunciation party. So how can it be that the Green Vice Chancellor is so popular with the Germans? That the “Stern” even called him “Oliver Kahn of the Federal Government”?

“Habeck is perceived as particularly authentic”

“Robert Habeck is perceived as particularly authentic. He takes the difficult struggle for the right position in terms of content,” says Jakob Lempp in an interview with FOCUS Online. He works as a political scientist at the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences. His areas of focus include parliamentarianism, party systems and European integration.

When Habeck describes something, it doesn’t sound formulaic or read. When he spoke about his gas negotiations in Qatar in mid-March, he said that necessity knows no law. “This is a journey that is totally strange.” Habeck was transparent, self-critical.

“When he speaks, it sounds like spoken language,” says Lempp. Habeck weighs, also explains what speaks against certain positions and procedures. According to the expert, this “one side and the other side strategy” makes the politician appear credible. At least more credible than some of his ministerial and party colleagues.

Habeck creates credibility – and tricks

At the same time, Lempp sees a communicative trick in Habeck’s constant pros and cons. “Anyone who often emphasizes that others could also be right will be forgiven more easily if they are wrong.”

Volker Kronenberg, who teaches political science at the University of Bonn, also emphasizes that the climate minister is not afraid to speak uncomfortable truths. “It is irrelevant whether the latter are uncomfortable for his party or far beyond.”

Inconvenient truths include Habeck’s Qatar negotiations, but also his approval of fracking gas from the USA. The Ukraine war is forcing him to explore options that go against his party’s principles. Incidentally, other politicians have also noticed this.

CSU regional group leader Alexander Dobrindt recently told the “Welt”: “Fracking has become, so to speak, a synonym for asocial energy production. But it is perfectly fine for the federal government to buy fracked gas from the US.”

“When it comes to nuclear power, Habeck also says: be careful!”

One thing is clear: Germany is in an exceptional political situation. War is raging in Ukraine, inflation is at record levels, and climate change is fueling extreme weather phenomena. “People understand that the federal government as a whole and Robert Habeck too are not simply sticking to the tried and tested,” says political scientist Lempp.

Giving up earlier positions, as Habeck does, is therefore not a contradiction – but an attempt to react flexibly and pragmatically to changing problems. “Habeck embodies that in a special way as a green man and that’s why many people like him.”

But that doesn’t mean that the climate minister can juggle political positions at will. The topic of nuclear power in particular is currently very explosive. The demands for an extension of the service life of the existing power plants are increasing.

Habeck is under pressure: he is responsible for Germany’s energy security, while at the same time the anti-nuclear idea is part of the Greens’ DNA. “This topic is about the core of the green identity and for Robert Habeck it means: be careful!” says Lempp.

How long will Habeck’s popularity last?

Kronenberg also says: “He knows that in the long run he must not get into a permanent tension between ministerial actions and green principles. But he also knows that the situation imposes constraints on him as well as opportunities that he can take advantage of.”

One of these possibilities is to push the issue of “sustainability” forward, to define it as a basic direction in energy policy. And not just “green” in the narrow sense of the party. Because Habeck’s popularity is, as Kronenberg describes it, designed for a long time. “Almost everyone can and wants to form a coalition with Habeck: black, red, yellow, dark red.”

Lempp believes that the image of politicians can change quickly – this could be observed, for example, with SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz. Habeck’s popularity could quickly decline if the full impact of the gas crisis hits consumers’ wallets.

Habeck temporarily controls government affairs

After all, there are already the first signs of dissatisfaction. At a performance in Bayreuth, Habeck received boos from around 100 demonstrators, some calling him a “warmonger”.

A situation that shows that even the most empathetic communication artist reaches his limits when citizens fear for their livelihoods. “Nevertheless, my impression is that Habeck’s popularity is not a short-term phenomenon,” says Lempp.

The climate minister is currently in charge of government business because Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) is on vacation. And who knows: Maybe one day Habeck will end up in the chancellery after all, and then not just as a deputy.

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