Besides Angela Merkel’s husband Joachim Sauer, no one else has been closer to the Chancellor than Peter Altmaier, the current caretaker minister of energy and economy. Altmaier is one of the very few German politicians on a first name basis with Merkel.
Once a “wild youngster” with dreams of getting the conservatives and the Greens to get along better (at the time a very ambitious notion), Altmaier must now contend with a somewhat mixed legacy as he leaves the Bundestag after 27 years.
Altmaier began his career as state secretary in the interior ministry in 2005 and graduated to become Merkel’s point-man in the refugee crisis, following a short stint as minister of the environment. The veteran of consecutive Merkel governments is now finishing his career as economy minister.
One of many powerful conservative politicians above the age of 60, Altmaier made waves in the past month when he joined failed party chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in relinquishing their Bundestag mandates to push the party to renew itself.
Out of the Bundestag, and with his CDU party likely to end up in opposition, the move effectively ends Altmaier’s career.
In Germany, environmental organisations and the Greens have long accused Altmaier of being champion of industry at the expense of environmental concerns.
His critics were stunned when he recommended that the incoming German government should abolish the renewable energy levy by 2025, the main driver of electricity prices in Germany, as Altmaier had failed to tackle the issue during his four-year term.
In 2018, Altmaier lobbied against ambitious EU goals to share renewable energy in the bloc’s energy mix, something he feared would cost German taxpayers.
“I ask for your understanding that a minister must follow the will of the government,” Altmaier told journalists on Wednesday (27 October) when asked by EURACTIV whether he considered his lobbying at the energy council in 2018 a mistake. He explained that climate action carried a cost and would impact German competitiveness.
Ultimately, Altmaier’s service to German competitiveness and quality of life marked much of his time as minister of economy and energy, which in turn led observers to criticise the slow expansion of renewables.
Altmaier is another case of an ambitious politician whose initial commitment to championing environmentalism did not hold up over time.
Yet his decision to relinquish his parliamentary mandate and exit politics alongside Merkel to make way for a younger generation offers a glimpse of a more idealistic Altmaier. This is a man who appears almost bittersweet in the face of the challenges that realpolitik has forced upon him.
“Do it well and better,” were Altmaier’s final words as a parliamentarian. Not as a minister, he clarified to journalists when asked by EURACTIV.
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Look out for…
- Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans participates in International Trade Union Confederation panel.
- Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli speaks at 2021 Gender Equality Index conference.
- Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson speaks at launch of OECD’s International Migration Outlook 2021.
- Informal meeting of political directors on 28-29 October, with focus on EU-foreign policy issues.
Views are the author’s.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]