The right-hand man of German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck has stepped down following allegations of cronyism during the appointment process for a state-owned energy think-tank.
State secretary Patrick Graichen, formerly the chief of the influential Berlin-based think-tank Agora Energiewende, was appointed to the post of state secretary when the new German government was formed in 2021.
He quickly gathered a reputation for his handling of the energy crisis and his role in engineering the country’s energy transition. Germany’s currently most controversial law, a ban on fossil heaters from 2024, is largely his doing.
‘One mistake too many’
A failure to disclose his close personal relationship with designated government think-tank chief Michael Schäfer, once his best man, has now seemingly become his stumbling block. Media reports suggest that irregularities in other tenders may have been the final blow.
“I intend to ask the Federal President to put Patrick Graichen into temporary retirement,” Habeck explained in Berlin on Wednesday (17 May).
“He has made himself too vulnerable” to attacks, Habeck added. “It was one mistake too many.”
While the vice-chancellor had been willing to back Graichen “despite the mistake” made during the headhunting process for the new chief of the government think-tank dena, another mistake had surfaced during internal audits.
In searching for a new head of dena, Graichen allegedly failed to disclose his close personal relationship with Schäfer – while putting him forward as the best-suited candidate for the role.
Aside from his best man, Graichen had rubber-stamped a funding application by an NGO linked to his sister. BUND Berlin, an environmental NGO, had applied for €600,000 in funding for a climate protection project – with Graichen’s sister, Verena Graichen, on its board.
Another instance of potential compliance issues had been the promotion of Felix Matthes to the expert commission that monitors Germany’s progress on energy transition, Vice-Chancellor Habeck added.
Green transition blow
The removal of Graichen, who had supervised many of the Greens’ key projects – speeding up the renewables rollout, and shifting to clean household heating – is expected to leave a hole in Habeck’s ability to push forward the country’s green transformation.
The German government currently is in tough talks to finalise the planned ban on fossil boilers from 2024 before the parliament’s summer break. With Graichen’s departure, one of the key advocates of a speedy ban will have been removed from play – to the relief of his political opponents.
“Graichen goes….finally. Now the heating hammer [boiler ban] must also be taken off the table,” said centre-right EU lawmaker Peter Liese, who hails from Germany’s conservative CDU.
Business-friendly FDP lawmakers were also content.
“I very much welcome the fact that Robert Habeck has now made the necessary personnel changes and put Patrick Graichen into temporary retirement,” said Rainer Sement, one of the FDP’s buildings policy experts.
This article was first published by our partner Euractiv. The headline was changed from “sacked” to “resigned” on 19 May 2023.