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Prime Minister Söder, Federal Minister Habeck at the International Crafts Fair: Who scores points among medium-sized businesses?

Photo: Sven Hoppe / dpa

One might think that Robert Habeck loves craftsmanship.

Just two weeks ago, the much-maligned Federal Minister of Economics visited the craft fair in Leipzig and tried his hand at soldering pipes or braiding a yeast braid.

Habeck, the Vice Chancellor from Berlin's government district, the green academic, appeared to be very down-to-earth.

This Wednesday is the International Crafts Fair in Munich: Habeck pats a robot that is supposed to help with welding and scurries past stands where fair visitors are finding out about natural stone in the kitchen.

At the Munich Building Guild stand, the minister takes off his dark jacket, rolls up his shirt sleeves, kneels on the fleece mat and hammers paving stones into the ground.

But no matter how much the Green Party seeks to be close to guild masters and trainees: Habeck and the craft remain a difficult relationship.

This is shown by the visits to Munich and Leipzig.

The Minister of Economics, in particular, urgently needs the trades with his more than five million employees in Germany to turn abstract goals into reality: craft businesses equip daycare centers, install heat pumps, insulate buildings and connect charging stations for electric cars.

But many craft businesses are unfamiliar with politics in general and the traffic light government in particular.

They criticize what they see as excessive bureaucracy, the increased energy costs, and the difficult process of finding a majority within the government coalition.

The crisis in housing construction is causing “huge concerns” for the trades, says Jörg Dittrich, President of the Central Association of German Crafts (ZDH).

In general, many investments in Germany are being held back.

“The mood is killing us,” says Dittrich, a master roofer from Dresden.

Fewer and fewer people are willing to take on entrepreneurial responsibility in the skilled trades.

“We need action,” shouts Dittrich.

"It's time to do it."

And of course, almost everywhere the Vice Chancellor goes, Habeck follows the so-called heating law, which the traffic light passed last year after months of strife.

This has “triggered uncertainty among the population like I have never experienced before,” says district chimney sweep and energy consultant Jochen Scherne in the direction of Habeck.

A 75-year-old customer had tears running down his face, says Scherne.

“In my opinion, politics must provide security,” says the craftsman.

That was totally missed.

"We explained your policy during this time."

Government wants to reduce bureaucracy

Habeck reported on stage in Munich that the federal government had accepted 44 concrete demands from the ZDH to – as the association calls it – “unbundling the jungle of paragraphs”.

Only three of them fell under the responsibility of his Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Habeck announced that all the relevant ministries would discuss the many other demands from areas such as health protection, occupational safety and data protection on a joint day with the trades.

When it comes to reducing bureaucracy, the government has started with energy supply - for example with power lines or terminals for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG), as the need there was greatest in the crisis year of 2022.

Politicians now have to get people into work, says Habeck, pointing to 1.4 million young people between the ages of 20 and 30 who do not have a professional qualification.

“These people need access to work, especially to training,” says the Vice Chancellor.

Markus Söder wants to do better.

The CSU boss is fighting with Habeck this Wednesday for the favor of the craftsmen.

The Bavarian Prime Minister says his father once ran a small bricklaying business.

Nevertheless, if he had pursued a career in the trades, he would have chosen a different profession, Söder jokes: "After my passion, it would have been a butcher."

Söder points out that Habeck has drawn attention to himself in recent months with demands worth billions for the establishment of chip factories or the climate-friendly conversion of steelworks.

"I think it's completely okay that the state is spending billions to establish new industries," says Söder.

But if there is no more money left for the local middle class because the federal government has to make savings, "then it's no longer true."

While there is talk of creeping de-industrialization in Germany, the trades are not migrating abroad, says Söder.

“At best, the craft will be destroyed.”

With such pithy words, Söder quickly gets the craftsmen on his side.

In any case, this is a home game for the CSU boss, not only geographically but also politically.

If he calls for lower taxes or attacks Habeck for phasing out nuclear power in 2023, he is likely to have the majority of the audience on his side.

Germany needs lower energy prices, says Söder.

And “without base-load energy,” it will not be possible to combine climate protection and economic strength.

Germany must finally use all domestic options for generating electricity again instead of importing expensive energy from abroad.

Federal-state dispute over tax relief

more on the subject

  • Habeck in Saxony and Thuringia: Mission cosmopolitanism in the factory canteen Benedikt Müller-Arnold reports from Jena and Leipzig

  • Regulatory rage: This is how bureaucracy is paralyzing GermanyBy Tim Bartz, Simon Hage, Martin Hesse and Martin U. Müller

  • Journey to the encouragers: Germany, you can do better

But Habeck can counter.

He won't let the criticism of the nuclear phase-out sit with him.

At the time of the reactor disaster in Fukushima, Germany had 14 nuclear power plants in the country, the Green Party calculates.

Eleven of the reactors were taken off the grid under Union government responsibility.

And Söder in particular was pushing for a quick nuclear phase-out at the time.

Imports from abroad only covered around two percent of Germany's electricity needs last year, according to Habeck, with the majority of this coming from renewable energy from Scandinavia.

It is wise that the cheapest electricity in the European internal market is transported across borders, says Habeck.

“But it’s not like we’re dependent.”

In the end, Habeck remains at least a respectable success.

The craft industry is certainly not his voter base, but compared to other appearances, the trade fair in Munich is almost a safe space for him.

At least people here listen to the Green Minister and make concrete suggestions.

Elsewhere there are whistling concerts and “get off” chants.

On Monday, when he was attending an energy conference in Cottbus, an egg flew towards Habeck's column.