Althusmann in an interview: "We have to use all available power plants"

The CDU's top candidate, Bernd Althusmann, has never experienced such an election campaign, and fear for their existence is written all over their faces in Lower Saxony.

Althusmann in an interview: "We have to use all available power plants"

The CDU's top candidate, Bernd Althusmann, has never experienced such an election campaign, and fear for their existence is written all over their faces in Lower Saxony. After an afternoon of debate with young people in the Lower Saxony state parliament, he spoke to about ways out of the crisis, the crux of the matter with digitization and political debates over dinner.

ntv: Publicly you seem quite relaxed, although in the worst case a defeat could cost you your ministerial office. do you do yoga

Bernd Althusmann: I'm relaxed, neutral, maybe because of my life experience. Above all, I am convinced that the people of Lower Saxony know that they can rely on the CDU, especially during the crisis. As a grand coalition, we have reacted well and stably in our federal state and have so far brought us through the crises well and robustly. Definitely better than a red-green state government would have managed. But now the incumbent prime minister says he wants to go back to red-green. This is now making more people in Lower Saxony very thoughtful than the surveys indicate. Many who are still undecided will weigh carefully before making their cross on October 9th. Because whoever elects Stephan Weil will get red-green or possibly a traffic light at state level. Nobody can seriously want that.

The larger partner is usually celebrated for the successes of a coalition.

We have always been equal partners. For example, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which we head, played a prominent role in overcoming the pandemic. We have always been drivers of this state government. I don't say that without a little pride. So far, Lower Saxony has come through the corona pandemic well. The prime minister also likes to adorn himself with it, which he is allowed to do as he is still prime minister. But he also knows that without the CDU, far less would have happened in this state government.

Do the voters see it that way too?

From my point of view, my CDU and I have clearly shown over the past five years that we can handle a crisis. Lower Saxony was one of the first federal states to provide emergency aid at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 and ultimately raised 6.5 billion euros for the economy and companies via our development bank. Otherwise the economic situation here would be very different. It just doesn't work without a strong economy.

For the debate with young people from Lower Saxony, you have chosen the topic of vocational training versus studying. Why a topic that is so difficult to score with?

Since I was Minister of Education in Lower Saxony from 2010 to 2013, I know from many discussions with schoolchildren that studying for young people often seems more attractive than an apprenticeship. But it is important to me that the dual training, for example in the trades, is on the same level as an academic training - that's one of the reasons why I took up this debate. On top of that, it was fun. Because the young adults were very well prepared. We have two million students in Germany and we still need qualified academics, but not only. We currently have around one million vacancies in Germany, and the need for skilled workers will continue to rise. We have to convince young people that classic vocational training or dual studies are also good options. Another reason why we have come through various crises so well in Germany is because we have a qualified medium-sized company. We are still not good enough at advertising for this.

The most recent survey from the end of September puts you just behind the SPD. The Greens are going down. What can you offer to those who turn away from there? With lifetime extensions for nuclear power plants, their voters are probably not going to be enticed.

This question is simply about the security of supply in Germany, not about election campaign tactics. This is a special challenge. As deputy prime minister and economics minister, I'm part of the government, but I don't have an office to defend like Hendrik Wüst or Daniel Günther. That certainly makes it a little more difficult. Nevertheless, I have a clear plan for Lower Saxony beyond the next legislative period in order to leverage as much potential as possible that this beautiful federal state offers. Lower Saxony becomes the cornerstone of German energy supply. We are the heartland of mobility or the food industry and are also able to do a lot on our own. Also, I don't plan on retiring anytime soon, as others have said.

You're referring to Stephan Weil who said that.

I have been working very successfully for this country for five years as Economics Minister and before that I was Minister of Education for almost three years. I know where things are getting stuck, including in education, for example, and I know how we can make better progress in many areas. My design standards are very clear, I work result-oriented. It is no use just forming commissions and discussion groups, as the traffic light is doing at the moment. In this serious crisis, decisions are finally needed. We need solutions and confidence. I will take care of that.

Ukrainian refugees who deal with the immigration authorities in Lower Saxony are sometimes surprised that hardly anything is digital. In Ukraine you have your ID card on your cell phone. Why are you so behind schedule?

This is not a Lower Saxony phenomenon, but a nationwide one. The question concerns the functionality and digitality of the state and thus falls under the Online Access Act - a term I don't like at all. In Lower Saxony, this law is the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, led by the SPD, by the way. In this area, too, we have to become significantly faster and quickly digitize all essential services between the state and municipalities. Many things are currently failing due to the selfishness of the ministries. As Economics Minister, I am responsible for digitization, but not within the administration. That's why I will set up a digital ministry in Lower Saxony, which will also have decision-making authority here, at least for a limited time. It can't be true that we're only making gradual progress here. The digital check I just introduced for all ministries in the state is a first step.

At least you're not the only state with problems like this.

Unfortunately, this is symptomatic for Germany. 16 federal states have different software systems that are not compatible with their local authorities. This is madness. We waste a lot of resources. As digital ministers, we talk our mouths off to the federal government, because this is a federal issue, if not a European one. The citizens rightly expect a functioning state that exhausts all digital possibilities.

The students have just criticized that the Lower Saxony climate protection law does not require CO2 savings in the area of ​​transport.

We are making a contribution to reducing CO2 and greenhouse gases simply by driving more of our buses with regenerative drive technologies. We launched the world's first hydrogen train in Lower Saxony, from Alstom, I was able to put it into operation myself. I have also ensured that there will be a low-CO2 steel industry in Lower Saxony in the future and created the conditions for this with the Salzgitter AG steel group and many others. The path to climate-neutral production in Lower Saxony is also linked to our hydrogen strategy for Lower Saxony and Germany.

What would that look like - very roughly?

When I say today that, with a view to security of energy supply, we have to keep the three remaining nuclear power plants running until the end of 2024, order fuel rods and amend the Atomic Energy Act so that the operators have legal certainty, then I combine that with the hope that we will within the next five years have built a hydrogen economy. It will then be able to do one thing: to use green hydrogen as a storage medium for regenerative energies. Because we are not yet able to sufficiently store energy from wind, solar or biomass. But if we have made an efficient hydrogen economy a core brand in Lower Saxony in five years at the latest, we will be able to do so. Lower Saxony becomes number 1. Industry follows energy, which results in great opportunities.

While concerns about an energy crisis are dominating the media in winter, are you actually getting through the election campaign with issues such as building child benefits, teaching positions and the like?

Limited. The election campaign is overshadowed by the topic of energy security, inflation and the extreme explosion in gas and electricity costs. The people, the medium-sized companies, the manufacturing industry, retailers, pensioners - we all have one concern in common: How can we get gas and electricity prices down? And now we have the alleged Wumms packages number 1, 2 and 3 at the federal level and the traffic light will probably conjure up a fourth one for those who have previously forgotten them. But if we want to fight the cause of the problem, then we need the energy price cap as soon as possible. Otherwise it stays with "left pocket, right pocket".

In your opinion, how should it be designed?

A price cap for 75 percent of last year's consumption of gas and electricity at 12 cents per kilowatt hour. That has been my specific suggestion for weeks, but the traffic light ignores it. Instead, the discussion continued in Berlin and the analysis was unsuccessful. The problems are named, the implementation is missing. Where are the answers and concrete solutions? Inflation will continue to rise, likely to over 10 percent in the first quarter of 2023, the Ifo Institute and others are predicting. If energy prices are the driver, then there is only one solution: We must lower energy prices and use all available power plants to secure Germany's energy needs. We must act quickly now.

Mr. Weil's demands sound very similar, he too is pushing for speed with the energy price cap.

Mr. Weil is putting one billion euros in the shop window for an aid program from the state of Lower Saxony, but he hasn't paid a cent for it in the budget or even financed it, and he also claims that the CDU is to blame for this.

In your opinion, you are not.

This is a purely tactical maneuver by Stephan Weil. Highly transparent. The billion he promised does not exist in the budget, and he claims that he was unable to assert himself against the CDU. Normally, however, the coalition partners of a state government would first have to agree that there is a concrete federal program that we co-finance from state funds. One state cannot do this alone. This is exactly how we proceeded successfully during the pandemic. Mr. Weil knows that very well. We started quickly at the beginning, but always with an eye on the federal program, for example for medium-sized companies. When we finally know the plans of the federal government, we will be able to close the gaps. Hence the campaign roar, of which not much will remain after the election.

How difficult is the election campaign when the SPD competitor tries almost as much to distance himself from the SPD as you do as a CDU man?

Do you find it credible when the person who carries the traffic light and whose SPD is a significant part of this traffic light suddenly makes a massive attempt to distance themselves from the federal government? Where is his much-vaunted influence in Berlin if the gas price cap is not implemented after months of debate? Just two months ago, Stephan Weil was full of praise for the collapse of the gas levy, which we had warned about. Now she's off the table.

Surely you welcome the end of this?

The traffic light went into this chaos with its eyes open. The bad thing is that the gas suppliers have already made their announcements about payments on account. I myself have already received the information from my supplier that the gas surcharge is included in the deductions. All these announcements by the energy suppliers are now obsolete. That's not how you govern a country, that's not how you create trust in political action in the midst of such an existential crisis.

You want to replace Stephan Weil, who seems to be very comfortable with the role of the country's father, while many of you have the impression that you value a certain distance from your counterpart.

Every person is different. It's important not only to smile nicely, but also to tackle things, to make decisions. In the last few weeks and months I have met a lot of people on my market square tours throughout Lower Saxony. And nobody said that you can't talk to them, on the contrary. I was very close to the people and in very close exchange and I faced every question, every discussion. I'm very down-to-earth and I get a good response to this Lower Saxon quality. Some people may not know exactly how to rate me. But they know I can be relied on and that I can be trusted.

They have five children.

Between the ages of 11 and 26, yes. My youngest daughter will be 12 years old on the day of the state election.

Is there a CDU consensus at the dinner table?

No, on the contrary. My eldest daughter is studying in Berlin and has her own views on some points, for example when it comes to animal welfare or nutrition. Two more of my children are studying and two are still in school. Once everyone is there, things get down to business over food - including politically. This is sometimes more challenging than some debates in Parliament. But just like me, my children are open to arguments, which is usually good for our debate.

Frauke Niemeyer spoke to Bernd Althusmann

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