Sigmar Gabriel’s surprising decision not to lead the Social Democrats into this year’s federal election means stepping down as vice-chancellor and economics minister.
It also brings to an end to his three years running Germany’s energy policy, overseeing its unprecedented “energy transition”—the radical shift away from nuclear and fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.
When Mr. Gabriel addressed Handelsblatt’s annual energy conference in Berlin on Tuesday morning, few in the audience knew it would be one of his last actions as energy minister. His speech, it turned out, would sum up what he claimed to have achieved during his tenure and point the way forward for his successor, expected to be another Social Democrat, Brigitte Zypries, currently a junior minister in his department.
When Mr. Gabriel took over stewardship of Germany’s shift to renewables, government support for green energy was based on direct subsidies per kilowatt-hour produced. The system proved expensive and inefficient, and is now being overhauled to a system of competitive tendering, reflecting a key theme of Mr. Gabriel’s time in office: “more market, less state.” Also on his watch, Germany launched an overarching climate plan, meant to steer green development until 2050.