For the Greens chairwoman Annalena Baerbock, it is a real away game: an appearance in front of a full crowd, but the audience is not on her side.

The future Federal Minister is considered to be a representative of political forces for whom the end of coal-fired power generation can never go fast enough and some of whom would also risk the entire industry being shut down in return.

On the other hand, as host, is the mining, chemical and energy union (IG BCE), for whose more than 600,000 members these industries are not only the source of above-average wages, but also a strong sense of self-worth.

Dietrich Creutzburg

Business correspondent in Berlin.

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Baerbock addressed these circumstances directly in her first guest speech at an IG-BCE federal congress on Wednesday in order to present herself to the 400 delegates as a social bridge-builder with industrial expertise: "IG BCE against the green, market versus state, economy versus environment" - all of these are "opposites that are actually only templates of black and white thinking". Now, with the planned government of the SPD, Greens and FDP, a particularly favorable constellation is emerging to bridge it. The conversion to a “socio-ecological market economy” aims to “preserve what is important to us: social coexistence, prosperity - and also Germany as an industrial location”, promised Baerbock. But she also dared to predict: "These years of reform that lie ahead of us will not be very easy years."

Interests of the coal-fired power generation

In the political perception, the differences between the Greens and IG BCE are enormous, especially because the latter represents the workers in the lignite mining areas who are directly affected by the premature phase-out of coal-fired power generation.

In circles of climate protection activists, the union is often branded flatly as a “coal lobby” when it insists on reliable prospects for those whose jobs are up for grabs due to exit decisions.

The traffic light explorers have decided to "ideally" bring forward the phase-out planned for 2038 to 2030.

On closer inspection, however, things are more complex than the “templates” suggest, as IG-BCE chairman Michael Vassiliadis tirelessly emphasizes. On the one hand, the date of an exit from coal depends completely independently of social and structural policy issues, above all on when wind, solar power and lines have been expanded to such an extent that the power supply works without coal-based electricity. Vassiliadis' formula for this: “If you want to get out earlier, you have to get in earlier.” Just handling data does not bring climate protection.

On the other hand, IG BCE also represents coal miners - but it has long since recruited the much larger number of its members in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. And their employees are also concerned about the planned “turnaround”. On Wednesday, Baerbock listed the “energy transition, chemical transition and automobile transition”. Specifically, it looks like this: Uncontrolled rising electricity prices or even a shaky supply could significantly reduce the interest of chemical companies in investing in new production processes and systems in Germany. And even if they take place here, there will be enormous changes for the employees. “Nobody in this room” asks the question “whether climate protection is important”, emphasized Vassiliadis. But it's about "how we do it".

In fact, Baerbock then became even more specific in their efforts to alleviate the skepticism: On the one hand, they assured that the planned coalition "on January 1, 2022" would start a huge effort to expand renewable energies.

And she also admitted that the transition would require the construction of additional new gas-fired power plants.

From the point of view of IG BCE, these should ideally be created at coal sites.

A huge challenge for the industry

On the other hand, Baerbock also directly addressed the pride of the chemical workers: “We need them for everything that is actually necessary for this transformation, for example batteries, a functioning circular economy, insulation and climate-neutral plastics,” she emphasized.

In addition to this “huge opportunity”, it is of course also a “huge challenge” to organize a climate-neutral energy supply for this inevitably energy-hungry industry.

The performance did not end with jubilation, but with respectful applause.

This is partly due to the fact that IG BCE traditionally maintains decent behavior in its self-confidence.

But Baerbock has also left the impression that she may not understand bridge building as just a task for people on the other side.