Germany: Economy Minister Habeck’s Anti-China Strategy under Fire

The Trumpf Group, a major German machine-tool, laser and electronics producer with markets throughout the world, has 85 million euros worth of laser products sitting in containers, that can’t be exported to China because the Economy Ministry has still not issued the export permits required. At the company’s annual press conference on Oct. 26, CEO Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller blasted the delays, and warned of the existential danger to many companies, if the government does not change its policies, including on the energy and the soaring prices of materials.

Green leader Robert Habeck, the current Economy Minister, claims that a lack of personnel at his ministry is responsible for the delay, but as Leibinger-Kammüller pointed out, “I don’t know of any ministry in Berlin that is understaffed”. And especially not one whose “primary task” is supposed to be to support German companies.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported on Oct. 27 that other corporate CEOs have voiced similar criticism of Habeck’s Economy Ministry, and suspect that the government’s anti-China strategy is the real reason for not granting export permits. As Leibinger-Kammüller pointed out, the lasers that have been held up for months, are specifically designed for civilian use, and have no military value, thus are not subject to the obligatory dual-use scrutiny.

According to the website, the CEO of the family-owned Mittelstand company also pointed out that “The ‘deindustrialization’ that has been a topic of discussion for weeks now is not just a threat evoked by energy-intensive industry, but a real danger in view of the imbalance in energy prices and other general factors, for example, compared to international competition.”

Leibinger-Kammüller’s remarks have been corroborated by a just-published survey conducted by the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) showing the increasingly pessimistic outlook among entrepreneurs. Over half of the 24,000 companies questioned view Germany’s economic policy as a business risk. This high percentage is unprecedented in the history of industry, the DIHK notes. Only 13% of the firms polled expect an uptick in the next 12 months, while 35% expect the German economy to continue to decline throughout next year.

“We see no sign of a self-sustaining upswing so far,” DIHK Managing Director Martin Wansleben said in a statement. “On the contrary, companies have revised their investment plans, which are important for this, and their hiring intentions downward – both into negative territory.”

No quick fix on the energy price front will improve the situation in Germany though: at an energy congress in Frankfurt on Oct. 26, Jürgen Schöttle, a former leading official at the Siemens Power division, declared that reversing the exit from nuclear power would require more than a crash program, because no new reactor has been commissioned in 40 years, and an entire new generation of nuclear engineers would have to be trained.

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