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Global Economy

"Boo" calls on the summer tour

Economics Minister Robert Habeck still has to cough. The corona virus has been defeated, but apparently not completely cured. When he was on the stage at the civil dialogue in the courtyard in downtown Bayreuth, he kept coughing.

In between he throws in a candy – and an older lady asks worried if he's getting enough sleep, he looks a bit worn out. Habeck grins; he's had enough sleep, he says, and if he feels he has to explain something, then he does.

Demonstrators insult Habeck …

In Bayreuth, however, he not only has to explain, but also drown out 100 demonstrators who are loudly and persistently asking him to get away. Some have accused the minister of being a "warmonger". Habeck actually wants to explain his energy policy this Thursday evening in Bayreuth. He wants to make it clear how important he thinks it is to save energy.

But the demonstrators won't fall silent, and Habeck doesn't want to put up with the insult "warmonger" after all. The real warmonger is Putin, he exclaims. Fear of rising gas prices or shortages only play an indirect role.

… and the electricity and gas bills are yet to come

In Bayreuth, Habeck has to answer questions that he is rarely asked in interviews: whether the federal government shouldn't talk to Putin more, whether supporting Ukraine is really worth all the annoying consequences, given that things are hardly progressing there. Habeck patiently explains several times why Germany is helping Ukraine and why talking only works if the other person listens – while the demonstrators continue to chant "Get lost" and make noise with their whistles.

The neutral observer wonders how much louder the protests would be if all these and everyone else had their electricity and gas bills in their hands. The economics minister would probably no longer be the poll king.

Habeck is still – protests in Bayreuth or not – according to ARD-DeutschlandTrend the second most popular politician in Germany, only with his party friend Anna-Lena Baerbock, the Federal Foreign Minister, are the voters a little happier. The minister suspects that these values will be a thing of the past as soon as the consequences of the energy crisis hit consumers' wallets.

Demonstrators also in Thuringia

Others have long known how expensive the gas crisis will be for them. Habeck has meanwhile traveled on to Thuringia, to Schleusingen, to the glass manufacturer Wiegand. The company produces 3.6 million bottles a day and needs more than 80,000 cubic meters of gas a day. It is Friday morning, Habeck's visit is again accompanied by demonstrators in front of the factory gate, and the company management greets the minister with alarming figures: the company would incur around 100 million euros in additional costs due to the higher energy prices. You've had to raise the prices for your customers, but you can't pass everything on.

Company boss Oliver Wiegand complains to the minister about his suffering: disrupted supply chains, lack of staff, bureaucracy and, of course, the energy crisis. Now the surcharge is coming, which is supposed to save the gas importer Uniper and the gas consumers like his company will have to pay.

Question about Nord Stream 2

Wiegand has the minister tell the demonstrators in front of the factory gate that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline can be put into operation. Wiegand himself apparently finds this idea appealing. For Habeck, opening Nord Stream 2 is out of the question for a number of reasons. In fact, if the government decided to do so, Germany would probably be at the bottom of its international partners for a long time.

And so Habeck is only committed to an extension of state aid for companies with large energy requirements; so far these are only possible until the beginning of September. The minister should think about the fact that half a year after the start of the Russian war against Ukraine, he was seriously asked about opening Nord Stream 2 – and this at a time when gas is expensive but is still being supplied.

Troubled times await Habeck and the entire government. A majority of Germans are still willing to accept personal disadvantages because of the sanctions against Russia. But most of them haven't seen their gas bill either.

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