For Hendrik Wüst things are happening in quick succession.

Last Saturday he took over the chairmanship of the North Rhine-Westphalian CDU at a party congress in Bielefeld, four days later the state parliament in Düsseldorf - shortly before the end of the legislative period - elected him as the new Prime Minister.

Wüst made his first government statement on Wednesday.

Not an easy situation for the previous Minister of Transport.

On the one hand, Wüst has to set his own accents in order to gain profile and awareness and to justify why he should also be Prime Minister in the coming years.

On the other hand, he must first appreciate what the black and yellow government under his predecessor Armin Laschet has achieved since 2017.

Pure burger

Political correspondent in North Rhine-Westphalia.

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Wüst does that in detail, which is why SPD parliamentary group leader Thomas Kutschaty shouts out to him that if you only look in the rear-view mirror, you are not making safe progress; Wüst's job is to handle black and yellow. "You are a liquidator, not an innovator." That is as pointed as one can expect from the opposition leader, especially since a new state parliament will be elected in May. But Wüst makes you sit up and take notice on Wednesday. Most of all when he signals that he can envision a much earlier end to the particularly climate-damaging lignite-based power generation than previously planned: "In North Rhine-Westphalia we are ready to phase out coal as early as 2030."

It was only about a year and a half ago that the phase-out was brought forward from 2045 to 2038.

After a long struggle, a coal commission set up by the currently only executive black-and-red federal government presented recommendations at the beginning of 2019, which then became, among other things, the coal phase-out law.

It envisages 2038 as the latest end mark.

According to their exploratory paper, the planned traffic light coalition of the SPD, Greens and FDP has now decided to “ideally” bring the coal phase out to 2030.

"Make coal redundant"

Wüst has no interest in a new major energy policy conflict with the federal government. The 46-year-old CDU man also does not want to stand as a brake from the fossil age. North Rhine-Westphalia wants to “do everything to ensure that an exit will be successful as early as 2030,” he asserts. As a precaution, Wüst then slides the ball into the field of the Berlin government team, which has not yet been set up: "But to do this, we have to manage to make coal as an energy source superfluous."

Then Prime Minister Wüst enumerates everything that is in the energy policy task book of the new federal government: It is about clarity in the accelerated expansion of renewable energies and grids, about clarity "what the alternative to coal should look like in terms of security of supply". "And I demand that those who cannot get out of coal fast enough to finally give up their blockades against faster planning and approval procedures." to black and yellow in North Rhine-Westphalia, but to the traffic lights in the federal government.

In reality, it is not particularly difficult for Wüst to come to terms with coal.

He even conceded this when he pointed out that the generation of electricity from coal was becoming increasingly uneconomical anyway due to the climate protection measures introduced by the EU, the tightened carbon dioxide saving targets of the federal government after the judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court and the further expansion of renewable energies.

"Therefore, it is already foreseeable that the amount of lignite that is still required will continue to decrease."

Man of compensation

The coal phase-out that was "ideally" promised by the traffic light negotiators for 2030 would have a tangible advantage for Wüst. According to the current legal situation, the energy company RWE is allowed to excavate five more locations for the Garzweiler II opencast mine, which is why demonstrations have already taken place in the Rheinische Revier in recent weeks. In 2018, the Hambach Forest became the symbol of climate protectors in the fight against coal, now the villages should become. Wüst does not want to appear as a willing executor for RWE under any circumstances. “I want us to preserve as many villages as possible,” promises the new prime minister.

In his first government statement, Wüst presented himself as a man of compromise. “I want a policy of togetherness and for one another.” In his speech, he promotes a course in which “social togetherness and economic success belong together”. Already at the CDU party congress in Bielefeld, the Wüst, who had long been part of the economically liberal camp, announced that it was important to take care of people's everyday worries again. Even under him, North Rhine-Westphalia will remain the “social conscience” of the Federal Republic, as it has for more than 70 years.

It is precisely this claim that enraged opposition leader Kutschaty on Wednesday.

“The most pressing problem you want to solve is your image problem.

You try to impersonate someone you are not, ”says the Social Democrat and accuses Wüst of being socially cold.

In the election campaign, Kutschaty wants to score as the authentic, only legitimate carer;

that will become clear on Wednesday.

As the son of a railroad worker, he grew up in a social flat with a coal stove, against all odds became a lawyer and argued in court for tenant and employee rights.

“You have to be able to feel justice,” says Kutschaty.

"You have to feel it - then you can act on it."

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