Economics Minister Robert Habeck has separated from his State Secretary Patrick Graichen because of the best man affair. Answers to the most important questions about dismissal.
By Thomas Steinman
What does Patrick Graichen’s dismissal mean for Robert Habeck?
The separation from Graichen is an enormous professional loss for the climate protection minister Habeck. Even his critics do not dispute that Graichen was one of the most important and powerful state secretaries in the current federal government. The countless energy policy laws and regulations that have come from Habeck’s ministry since the end of 2021 bear the signature of the former head of the think tank Agora Energiewende. After the traffic light came into government, Graichen, who was internationally regarded as an expert, initially managed the restart in climate policy for Habeck, for which he had already developed blueprints in his previous role.
Shortly thereafter, after the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, he became the Vice Chancellor’s main man in the fight against the energy and gas crisis. Graichen was responsible for the construction of the LNG terminals, the reactivation of coal-fired power plants to avoid power shortages, for the issue of nuclear power plant operating times, the later withdrawn gas levy, and most recently for the highly controversial traffic light heating law. When the top official was asked by journalists at the end of last year who in the ministry still had an overview and control given the many trouble spots and major construction sites, he answered: he himself in the so-called best man affair. Habeck called the dismissal a “dramatic consequence” on Wednesday. In fact, this applies not only to Graichen, but also to the minister himself.
Why does Graichen have to go now?
For weeks Habeck had defended his confidant, emphasizing Graichen’s achievements in preventing a gas emergency after the Russian invasion. Last week he defiantly declared that he would not fire Graichen, that the criticism was exaggerated and part of a campaign. But now, as the minister said on Wednesday morning at a short-term press conference, a “new situation has arisen” in the course of the ministry’s internal reviews of orders and “donations” to climate protection organizations that have connections to Graichen and his family.
heat pump, insulation, windows
There is money from the state for the house renovation
According to Habeck, this is about a planned subsidy for the Berlin state association of the nature conservation organization BUND as part of the national climate protection initiative in the amount of almost 600,000 euros. Clubs and associations could apply for funding for the climate protection initiative. According to Habeck, an external service provider had selected three eligible projects from 29 applications. In November 2022, Graichen, as the responsible state secretary, approved a corresponding proposal from the lower levels of the ministry – although his sister is active at the head of the Berlin state association of the BUND, until May 2022 also as state chairwoman. Therefore, the approval of the funding by the State Secretary “is to be assessed as a compliance violation,” said Habeck.
In addition, there were also anomalies in the composition of an expert commission for monitoring the energy transition – this is about the appointment of the head of the Freiburg Öko-Institut, where Graichen’s brother Jakob works. The two “mistakes” should be evaluated differently, said Habeck, but overall it was “one mistake too many”. The “compliance firewall”, which was drawn up after taking office in the ministry with a view to family-related conflicts of interest, “cracked”.
Has Habeck now rested?
Since the so-called best man affair about Graichen became known at the end of April, Habeck and his strategists have tried to limit the damage with a mantra-like formula: Yes, with the award for Graichen’s best man Michael Schäfer is at the top of the German Energy Agency (Dena). a “mistake” happens, Graichen should have withdrawn from the recruitment process. But this error is now “healed”, the procedure is set up again.
However, it soon became clear that this line of defense was not enough to clear up the affair – also because Graichen, as the architect of the controversial heating law, served as a target for political opponents and representatives of certain industrial interests. Not only the opposition tried to turn the Graichen case into a Habeck case – also using sometimes heavily exaggerated clan comparisons. In fact, there are also networks in the Greens, just like in the Union, SPD and FDP, where there can be a risk of party felting – especially since the Greens have been in the federal government since the end of 2021.
In the meantime, other people who Habeck brought to the management floor of his ministry on the Greens ticket are also being screened for possible conflicts of interest – such as the civil servant State Secretary Udo Philipp, whose dealings with the Greens major donor and greentech investor Jochen Wermuth “Capital ” already reported in January. Philipp was once the German head of the Swedish financial investor EQT, later he founded the anti-financial lobby organization Bürgerinitiative Finanzwende with today’s Habeck State Secretary Sven Giegold and the ex-Greens member of the Bundestag Gerhard Schick, before he entered politics as a career changer on the Green ticket came. Last weekend, the “Business Insider” portal reported on Philipp’s investments in start-ups.
So far, the state secretary, who is also responsible for the start-up industry in the Ministry of Economic Affairs today, has refused to disclose his specific investments. Another source of fire for Habeck could arise here, which could potentially take on similar dimensions as in the Graichen case.
What does Graichen’s dismissal mean for the heating law?
Nothing at all. Graichen is considered the architect of the so-called Building Energy Act, with which the traffic light wants to largely ban the installation of new fossil heating systems from 2024. However, his dismissal has no effect on the legislative process – even if some opponents of the heating law may secretly hope so. Much more important than the personnel will be whether the federal government can pull itself together internally.
In the cabinet decision, the FDP ministers distanced themselves from their own law in a noteworthy process with a protocol declaration and are counting on changes in the parliamentary procedure in the Bundestag. The Federal Council has also called for changes. Habeck now has to fight the fight against a watering down of his legal plans without Graichen.
Who will be Graichen’s successor?
That is still unclear. During his press appearance, Habeck assured that he would appoint a new state secretary “as soon as possible”. In doing so, he has to reconcile two things: Graichen’s successor must enjoy the vice chancellor’s absolute trust, but must not come from circles where similar conflicts of interest can exist as with Graichen. There is a lot of time pressure, not only because of the legislative process for the heating law.
Unlike the former Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU), who left the central post of Secretary of State for Energy vacant for months in the last grand coalition because he received various rejections, Habeck must quickly present a successor. He is planning a replacement “before the summer break,” he said. In order to prevent conflicts of interest, he will “actively ask” the candidates about their connections to the climate protection and energy scene.
As the “Bild” newspaper reports, Habeck is said to favor the head of the Federal Network Agency, Klaus Müller, as Graichen’s successor – he is also a member of the Greens and so far Habeck’s second most important man in the gas and energy crisis. Officially, the minister initially only announced on Wednesday who would not receive the post under any circumstances: “I will not appoint my best man as State Secretary.”
This article first appeared in the business magazine “Capital”, which, like the stern, belongs to RTL Germany.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.