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Wolfgang Schäuble on Germany and Europe: “We Germans Have Reached Agreements with NATO and We Must Adhere to Them”

  • June 16, 2020

Schäuble: We certainly shouldn’t be arrogant. We have seen that, despite our history, prejudice against people from elsewhere can be quickly awakened. It is clear that America has such a problem. But in contrast to China, it is possible to protests against it there. And the discipline shown by most of those demonstrating in the U.S. is cause for hope. It is also important to me that we don’t always point to others. You can’t, after all, be unreflectively proud of a country like Germany, in which the abuse of children apparently takes place far more frequently then we could imagine.

DER SPIEGEL: In the past, you were the face of Germany’s fiscal tightfistedness and of the federal balanced budget. Now, the government is taking on massive quantities of new debt. Does that bother you?

Schäuble: I didn’t invent the debt brake. That was introduced under Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück (who was in office from 2005 to 2009).

DER SPIEGEL: Still, you were involved.

Schäuble: You might be surprised, but I am a great adherent of the teachings of John Maynard Keynes, who supported a strong state role in the economy in times of crisis. In such a huge collapse of demand, the state has to intervene. But then it must pay down the debt load in better times. If the economy hadn’t been as strong as it was in the last legislative periods, we wouldn’t have the necessary flexibility that we have now.

DER SPIEGEL: Shouldn’t Merkel have held a “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech to better explain the deep cuts to the economy and the rising debt?

Schäuble: No. When Churchill held his “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech, Britain was under threat by Nazi Germany, which looked almost unbeatable at the time. We shouldn’t make that comparison. I recall similar demands back when Germany reunified. Chancellor Helmut Kohl was criticized because he instead promised a blooming landscape for eastern Germany. But Kohl did the right thing and gave people hope. If Germany had said from day one of the pandemic that we might not survive, panic would have been the result. To quote the “Song of the Bell” by Friedrich Schiller: The most frightful of terrors is man in his self-delusion.

DER SPIEGEL: It would also be wrong to tell people that everything will go back to normal after the pandemic.

Schäuble: Of course. It won’t be possible to save every job and there will be structural changes. But it would also be terrible if everything went back to the way it was. Do cruise ships really have to crisscross the seas as they were doing before? We can only hope that we’ll become a bit more restrained. We can see the stress to the environment from the ships and all their passengers that disembark all at once. There is said to be a connection between climate change, species extinction and pandemics.

DER SPIEGEL: Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that we’ll have to forgive each other for a lot. It’s rather unusual for a politician to apologize for mistakes ahead of time.

Schäuble: I think it was an excellent thing to say and Spahn is doing a good job. But we don’t really want to talk about candidates for the position of CDU party chair, do we?

DER SPIEGEL: We would like to know, though, what your position is on the candidacy of Friedrich Merz for that position. In the last vote for a new CDU chair, you were squarely on his side.

Schäuble: We arrive at our CDU chair via open debate. Ahead of the last vote, I was one of many other party members to express my opinion. At the moment, though, we have a completely different set of problems that need addressing.

DER SPIEGEL: You have always emphasized that you have adhered strictly to the coronavirus rules. Now that those rules are being loosened, how is your life changing?

Schäuble: I have always tried to remain a normal person, but I am naturally aware of the responsibility I bear because of my position. My wife and I recently went out to an Italian restaurant and we also went to the wonderful Monet exhibit in Potsdam, which is once again allowed. We are planning to go on vacation with our children and grandchildren. We’ve even booked it already. But we are doing everything within the rules.

DER SPIEGEL: Are you planning on visiting other countries in Europe?

Schäuble: We always go on vacation in Germany, normally to the North Sea, but this time to the Baltic. But I will certainly be meeting up again with my political friends in France.

DER SPIEGEL: Have you missed traveling in recent months?

Schäuble: Not a bit. In my life, I’ve had to travel far more than I wanted to.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Bundestag president, thank you very much for this interview.

Icon: Der Spiegel

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