Brandt School Universität Erfurt

Interview with Prof. Dr. Andreas Goldthau – The socio-political questions of the energy transition

Andreas Goldthau has been the Franz Haniel Professor for Public Policy at the Willy Brandt School since August 2019. In the following interview, he speaks about why the energy transition is a global question, which thematic priorities he wants to focus on in Erfurt and how he uses social media as a scholar.

Prof. Dr. Goldthau, what were the factors that influenced your move from London to Erfurt?

In Great Britain, I was a professor of International Relations, a discipline that is very dear to me. However, my field of research is in the area Public Policy. I had strayed a bit from Public Policy in London, and the Willy Brandt School was an opportunity for me to return to my roots. However, there is never just one reason for taking such a step.

Did Brexit play a role in your decision to make the switch to Erfurt and if so, in what way?

Brexit created uncertainty. The perspectives and the legal framework for Europeans in Great Britain has been unclear for a long time. Things revolved around what our legal status would be in the future, and not around developing study programs, formulating research ideas and securing financing for that research. This uncertainty increasingly changed the personnel structure and the funding opportunities at British universities. The combination of those things led me to look for other opportunities.

And what lead you to consider the Willy Brandt School?

I have always had Erfurt on my radar, particularly during my time at the Central European University's School of Public Policy. You observe your competition and there are only a few such programs. No program is as international in character as the WBS– that is unique, especially in Germany. The thematic outlook also intrigued me; the European view is often very focused on the OECD. However, we are no longer the most important continent, globally speaking. The WBS incorporates the Global South as well and leaves the solely Eurocentric perspective.

You started three months ago now. Describe your – now somewhat more solidified – first impressions.

On the one hand, there is the thematic environment, The Franz Haniel Professor for Public Policy, the Gerhard Haniel Professor for International Development and the Aletta Haniel Professorship for Entrepreneurship complement each other to form a thematic triangle. The fields International Conflict Management and Security ideally supplement that.

On the other hand, as a flagship project, the WBS is very important for the university. That gives us the freedom to do things that don’t fit the mold of a typical German study program. The way we teach, how we deal with our master’s program, the formats that we work with. I really value these freedoms.

What is your impression of the students?

The student body has exceeded my expectations. They come from all parts of the world and their educational backgrounds vary from pharmacy to sociology, this is similar to their professional backgrounds, which range from the UN to regional NGOs. This is extremely enriching for the lectures.

You teach Global Public Policy, and your main field of research is energy policy research. Is it possible to work within the field of Global Public Policy without asking questions regarding energy policies?

The nation state is no longer an adequate problem solver when it comes to topics such as development, migration, climate change or energy. Questions regarding the energy transition must be asked at a global level. No single nation has the necessary technologies – the value chains are global.

The nation state is the wrong policy level for this problem. On the other hand, we need the state as a strong policy actor. Other policy actors also play a role; private organizations that provide technologies and expertise and set standards. This leads to tensions that are not easily resolved. I find it interesting to see how different actors contribute to these fields that are transnational in character.

What is it that interests you specifically when it comes to questions regarding the energy transition?

The basis of my research focus is anchored in oil and gas. Those are private goods; they have a price, are sold, someone produces them and someone consumes them – a classic market. At the same time, the prosperity of whole nations depends on them. Private goods have the characteristics of public goods, and the market gains a political component. If we want to free ourselves from oil and gas, the same questions become pertinent: How can economies make the transition to a non-fossil energy system? The dual character of private-public goods also play a central role when it comes to renewable energy and touches on fundamental social and economic factors.

On what do you want to set the thematic focus for your professorship?

The energy transition touches all aspects of our existence, from the question of how we get from A to B to the societal models we want to live in, in the future. Globally speaking, money, technology and knowledge are not distributed equally. Decarbonization can lead to further inequalities. The economic and technological aspects of the energy transition are already being discussed, but what does the energy transition mean on a sociopolitical level and what answers can public policy offer? These questions preoccupy me and I want to make them an essential part of what defines this chair.

How do your research findings reach political decision makers?

I am a regular guest in Brussels; I speak at the EU Commission or in Committees in the European Parliament. In Germany, I have contacts within the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Economics, among others. The aim is to feed research findings into the political process – always with the caveat that they only offer possible interpretations. You have to communicate clearly with decision makers and present results in a different way.

You also share your results with the public and are very active on Twitter. What role do social networks play for academia?

The times where you wrote an article and waited for someone to find it are over. There is a huge diversity of opinions; the discourse is broad and intense. To play a role, you have to actively take part in the process. Twitter offers access to a thematic community that isn’t purely academic, people from academia, the policy sector and companies. Twitter is also an important source of information for me. I don’t just post, I also gain from Twitter.

This interview is a translation of the German interview conducted by the Haniel Foundation.