German minister likened to Putin in row over heat pumps
A minister has been compared to Vladimir Putin over his push to replace gas boilers with heat pumps in a row embroiling the German government.
The Green party, which controls the powerful new climate ministry in Olaf Scholz’s coalition government, is determined to drive reform through a mixture of subsidies and banning old technologies.
Most controversially, the Greens announced plans this month to ban all new gas heating installations starting next year, a policy that will force homeowners to buy more expensive heat pumps.
Climate minister Robert Habeck insists that his drastic measure is the only way that Germany can meet its target of hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2045.
“To say that we want to reach carbon neutrality by 2045 but at the same time say ‘hey you can still install gas heating’ - that is a lie,” Mr Habeck stated flatly this week.
But since the plan was leaked a fortnight ago, it has come under attack.
Wolfgang Kubicki, the deputy leader of junior coalition party, the Free Democrats, went as far as to compare Mr Habeck to Vladimir Putin, saying he was acting like “a Führer who thinks he knows what is best for people.”
While Mr Kubicki later apologised for the comment, it was paradigmatic of the crumbling trust inside the government that has burst out into the open in recent weeks.
Economists have slammed the uncosted plan which they say is likely to cost billions.
Trade associations have said that there are not enough specialists around to install all the heat pumps, and industry have said that there are not enough heat pumps to meet demand.
Conservatives have leapt on the row which they say will harm people’s home ownership aspirations.
Bavarian state leader Markus Söder said the government “would rather that we live in communist prefab houses than own our own home”.
Dirk Wiese, a senior figure inside Mr Scholz’ Social Democrats, sniped that the plans were evidence that the Greens “often only focus on the high earners in the big cities”.
The Free Democrats warned that the plan would "harm an insane number of people".
The Greens, for their part, are increasingly frustrated by the Free Democrats, who have recently backtracked on a previous agreement to ban combustion engines by 2035.
The Free Democrats are also using their position in control of the finance ministry to threaten to withhold funding in next year's budget.
Green politicians suspect that the right-leaning Free Democrats, scarred by a series of local election defeats, are causing trouble in an attempt to placate their voters.
Meanwhile, the eco-party is increasingly frustrated by Mr Scholz, who has refused to intervene to resolve the squabble.
They suspect that he secretly sides with the Free Democrat’s fiscal conservatism but doesn’t want to admit to it publicly.
Venting his anger this week, Mr Habeck said that “only one party in this coalition is for progress and the other two are trying to frustrate it”.
Polling suggests that the Greens have taken a hit in recent weeks, as old stereotypes of them being Germany’s Verbotspartei, the party that likes to ban fun, have resurfaced.
This unusual coalition of left and right-wing parties was “pre-programmed for conflict,” says Sudha David-Wilp, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund.
The Ukraine war "papered over the cracks", she says but the differences are now emerging due to the fact that both the Free Democrats and Greens fear that they made too many concessions in the last year that harmed their standing with their core voters.