Sunday, November 28

Minister Altmaier: His last time


Status: 10/27/2021 11:49 a.m.

The outgoing Minister of Economic Affairs Altmaier is likely to have one of his last major appearances today. The political veteran, the former “all-purpose weapon”, is ceasing. Hans-Joachim Vieweger about someone who would have liked to stay.

By Hans-Joachim Vieweger, ARD capital studio

What he wasn’t already: State Secretary in the Interior Ministry (from 2005), Parliamentary Managing Director of the Union Group (from 2009), Federal Environment Minister (from 2012), Chancellery Minister (from 2013), temporarily finance minister and then economics minister. An office that the Union got in 2018 because it had to relinquish the office of finance minister to the SPD as an incentive to continue in the grand coalition – a heavy loss, many people in the Union found even then.

Hans-Joachim Vieweger
ARD capital studio

Altmaier, whose appointment came as a surprise, was not deterred. Rather, when he took office, he recalled that the Ministry of Economic Affairs was the ministry shaped by the father of the social market economy, Ludwig Erhard, which the Union parties had not occupied for more than 50 years.

The versatile lawyer, also called an all-purpose weapon by some, mastered the language of the economics minister within a very short time. When the economy was doing well, as at the beginning of his tenure, he warned against too much exuberance: “The situation has improved, but the trees are not growing to the sky either.” And when it was later a question of stimulating the economy, he used the classic phrase about the horses, “which should drink again, as it is popularly known” – a phrase which, by the way, was made famous by the former SPD economics minister Karl Schiller.

Altmaier’s industrial strategy fails

But Altmaier was not quite as happy in his office as Minister of Economics. A trade war at the time of US President Donald Trump could be averted with a common approach by the Europeans. But the question of how Germany and Europe can hold their own against the great economic powers USA and China led to what was probably the greatest defeat of his term in office. In 2019 Altmaier presented his “National Industrial Strategy 2030”, which – even if he uses the name of Ludwig Erhard over and over again – may not quite fit in with the economically liberal tradition of his famous predecessor.

Altmaier wanted to counter the big corporations from the USA and China. In the areas of digitization and artificial intelligence in particular, Germany and Europe threatened to be left behind: “Anyone who misses out on these technologies will one day just be the extended workbench of others,” he says. Altmaier therefore proposed a state industrial policy. He could also envision state investments to promote European champions. FDP leader Christian Lindner said that in competition with China one could not rely on Chinese instruments.

Above all, business associations were outraged. Reinhard von Eben-Worlée from the Association of Family Entrepreneurs recalled that the strength of the German economy lies primarily in medium-sized businesses. Even the Chancellor had to stand by her minister and confidante – by the way, Altmaier is said to be one of the few in politics that Angela Merkel uses: Nobody is making an industrial strategy against the German middle class, according to the Chancellor.

Friedrich Merz in the neck

But by then the child had already fallen into the well, in a survey of managers there was talk of a “total failure” and a “wrong appointment”. And it was not the first time that Friedrich Merz was named as Altmaier’s potential successor as Minister of Economics. Altmaier did not contest that. When asked whether he was afraid of being replaced by Merz, he said: “I don’t look scared and I am not.” As a politician, he is used to others being interested in his own job. Incidentally, filling the ministries is a matter for the Federal Chancellor.

Business and environmental protection together

But it was noticeable that he was now looking for more contact with the various business associations and also tried to mediate on the subject of environmental protection: Business and climate protectors should recognize that they could only win together. Altmaier campaigned for the coal compromise, i.e. the coal phase-out planned for 2038 combined with aid for the affected regions. He relied on the promotion of hydrogen as an important factor in the energy mix of the future, as well as on renewable energies. At the same time, the economy must be protected from excessively high electricity prices.

Tagesschau live: Minister of Economic Affairs Altmaier on the economic forecast

10/27/2021 11:51 am

Much criticism of the corona management

Corona, however, let many projects fail. First of all, the economics minister was asked to act as a crisis manager. Together with Olaf Scholz as finance minister, Altmaier presented aid worth billions. He spoke of the “most comprehensive, most effective assistance and guarantee that has ever existed in a crisis”. Indeed, billions of dollars were made available quickly. But it took a while for the aid to reach the economy. Some things were more bureaucratic than promised. And many entrepreneurs complained that Altmaier did not represent their interests enough.

At a crisis summit Altmaier had to listen to fierce criticism: Entrepreneurs pointed out the personal needs: The restrictions imposed by politics were affecting the substance – “you have sleepless nights there,” said one. Above all, however, the economy demanded an open perspective. It took some time to come to that.

After all: It looks like the German economy will come out of the crisis with one black eye, despite all the problems. After the significant drop of almost five percent last year, gross domestic product could grow by around two and a half percent this year, and economic researchers are even anticipating an increase of more than four percent for the coming year.

More sport and gardening

The last economic forecast presented by Altmaier should look something like this. This forecast is of great importance because it is an important basis for the tax estimate, which in turn forms the framework for the coming budget.

But the minister, who would have liked to stay, is leaving. He also renounces his mandate in the Bundestag. The man who likes to cook and says of himself that he has a sunny disposition and childlike joy in life should not lose his sense of humor. Once he said of himself: “I am the most important minister in this federal government.” Knowing that a little more exercise and a little more gardening are good for him. “Then the ability to work is also secured for the future.” Regardless of where the future will lead the now 63-year-old.

His last time: Peter Altmaier stops

Hans-Joachim Vieweger, ARD Berlin, 26.10.2021 · 18:24

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