Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner does not see himself and Economics Minister Robert Habeck as opponents. "The impression is deceptive," he says in an interview with ntv.de. "We have different roles and tasks." This would inevitably result in different positions. "But one can certainly say that Germany has come through this year of complex crises comparatively well. In this respect, we have lived up to our responsibility."
Lindner expressed reservations about one of the central conflicts between the FDP and the Greens - the final phase-out of nuclear power next April. "If I had had to decide on my own, then the three German nuclear power plants would have been operated with new fuel rods until the spring of 2024." It is still technically possible: "The delivery time for fuel rods is given as ten months. It could possibly be accelerated. So, technically, the coming winter could be reached." Lindner made it clear who would be responsible for possible negative consequences of the exit: "The Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection has ultimate responsibility for energy security, energy prices and CO2 emissions."
ntv.de: In 2023 the Federal Constitutional Court will decide on the climate and transformation fund. How nervous are you that the Union faction's lawsuit could succeed?
Christian Lindner: We'll just wait and see. The Union is suing against an approach that it used in a similar way during government times. The funds in the climate and transformation fund will be used for investments in clean technologies, efficient buildings or electromobility that could not be made during the pandemic. However, the second supplementary budget for 2021 is...
... with which the 60 billion were made available for the climate and transformation fund ...
… part of the traffic light coalition agreement. It is not my favorite project or my idea, but a compromise that was conceptually prepared by my predecessor. So Olaf Scholz can feel confirmed by the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court.
The judges have rejected the urgent application, but they have also made it clear that it is quite possible that the special fund is unconstitutional.
Thousands of people will have welcomed the decision from Karlsruhe with relief. If the CDU and CSU had prevailed, there might have been a halt to funding for construction or industrial projects. We have implemented the coalition agreement in a constitutionally responsible manner. However, I expect the judgment in the main proceedings to provide more precise information on the application of the debt brake. Countries like North Rhine-Westphalia will also take a close look.
What effects can the judgment have on the other special funds, such as the one for the Bundeswehr or the Economic Stabilization Fund, which is now being used to finance the energy price brakes?
In the case of the special program for the Bundeswehr, it was my initiative to enshrine the 100 billion euro investment in the Basic Law. In doing so, I not only wanted to create a constitutionally unassailable exception to the debt brake, but also to express that all other priorities are not simply financed with debt. The second case is the Economic Stabilization Fund, which has been around since the pandemic. He is now financing the electricity and gas price brake. It is self-explanatory that crisis-related emergency loans are necessary for this. Because we cannot predict the price development, flexibility also had to be created for the years 2022, 2023 to 2024. However, we will not repeat a procedure like the second supplementary budget for 2021.
What would your alternative be?
In the situation at the time, the transfer of unused credit authorizations was constitutionally justifiable. The aim was to push the economic recovery by catching up on investments that had not been made due to the pandemic. However, it is normal for credit authorizations to relate to the respective financial year.
Where else would the money for climate investments have come from?
I don't have to answer that in the rear-view mirror, because in view of the amount of investment required, my advice also applies to the future. We have to ask even more critically: how much CO2 savings do I get per euro? We should focus on the most effective and efficient measures. That's why I campaigned for a reduction in the environmental bonus for electric cars, for example, because there were deadweight effects and the more important lever is the charging station infrastructure. In addition, we should rely on openness to technology and free-market competition for ideas, on the priority of private capital. That saves some subsidy.
The Union has dubbed you the "debt brake circumvention minister." Does that annoy you?
no I am proud that we are overcoming the failures of the Union in the Bundeswehr with our special program. I also haven't heard that the CDU and CSU want to take the electricity and gas price brake away from people. It is therefore really a question of strategic budgetary management. When it came to the Economic Stabilization Fund, I made a conscious decision to place it alongside the federal budget. You can criticize me for that, and the criticism is legitimate, because it was a difficult decision. I just think I have good reasons. In 2023 we will return to the debt brake for the regular political projects in the federal budget. In short: no emergency loans for traffic light projects, because the Economic Stabilization Fund is strictly earmarked for crisis measures. This self-commitment did not exist in other governments. I take responsibility for this because it is the quickest way to consolidate public finances again.
One criticism of the energy price brakes is that they rain down on everyone like a watering can: even on those who don't need help. When will Germany be technically able to provide targeted support to those who actually need support instead of giving money to everyone to reach those in need?
We will soon be able to make one-off payments. We have just created the legal basis for this with the Annual Tax Act. Now that will be implemented technically: You have to collect the data, the IBAN and the tax number, and create an IT infrastructure. However, I hesitate when I expect that such a payment method will automatically lead to an assessment of individual needs. The assessment of economic performance is carried out in tax and social law. This is not trivial.
Isn't it socially unjust and a waste to give money to people who don't need it?
Social justice includes solidarity with those in need, but also respect for stress limits. The people who are said to not need support at all are the same people who disproportionately finance solidarity through their high tax burden. If they were completely exempted from the electricity and gas price brakes, these taxpayers would be charged twice. In addition, the gas price brake is taxed for those who pay the solidarity surcharge. In this respect, the subsidy amount for the absolute top earners is reduced in accordance with the idea of justice in our tax law.
Federal Chancellor Scholz said on February 27: "From now on we will invest more than 2 percent of the gross domestic product in our defense every year." So far, this promise has not been kept. Why is Germany still not achieving the two percent target?
With the consent of the CDU/CSU, I have specified the Chancellor's objective in the implementation of the legislative process: We will meet the NATO target of 2 percent on average over the next few years. Sometimes it will be 1.7 percent, sometimes 2.5 percent, but on average 2 percent. Why? Because certain procurement projects simply take longer. However, it will be crucial that, in addition to using the special program for the Bundeswehr, we gradually increase the regular defense budget. This will be a political effort. I am concerned about the idea that for every additional euro that goes into the defense budget, another euro should be earmarked for the civilian sector. We once wrote down this form of political compensation in the coalition agreement, but that was before the turning point.
Her party colleague Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann is demanding the delivery of "Leopard 2" battle tanks to Ukraine. Is she right about that?
There can be no German going it alone. We must arm Ukraine with heavy weapons. Ukraine must win this war. For example, Germany has supplied multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine and the US is doing the same. I think we should keep this approach.
The federal government could try to create an international framework in which the delivery of battle tanks would not be a solo effort.
...have no Leopard tanks.
... but have other main battle tanks.
That is, if the USA delivers Abrams tanks, would you, as the FDP, be willing to advertise in the federal government to deliver "Leopard 2"?
If the USA were to change its policy in this way, we would have a new situation in Germany. This is more of a speculative thought experiment, but then a new decision would have to be made.
When Chancellor Wolfgang Schmidt made an appearance in October, one could get the impression that people like Ms. Strack-Zimmermann were getting on his nerves and presumably also on the Chancellor's nerves. Can you confirm?
That would surprise me. Olaf Scholz and Wolfgang Schmidt are democrats who can handle debates. But the task of a chairperson of the Defense Committee of the German Bundestag would not be to please the Federal Chancellor or the Head of the Chancellery or any other member of the government, but to address critical issues in the interest of our country.
Would you say that within the coalition, the SPD tends to be the party that is putting the brakes on support for Ukraine?
no We have a common approach. There may be different nuances, but my position just expressed - that we do everything in close coordination with our partners, friends and allies, including and especially the US - is supported by all parts of the government.
It's not German leadership in Europe, judging by the Americans.
German leadership should never mean going it alone. Our leadership responsibilities are designed to bring others together and engage. It is a serving, not a dictating leadership responsibility.
Is the impression that you and Robert Habeck are more opponents than partners in the coalition deceptive?
Yes, the impression is deceptive. We have different roles and tasks. The finance minister represents the interests of taxpayers. I have to keep an eye on the overall macroeconomic development, I have to make decisions about scarce resources, which are always too few because there are always more sensible and desirable things than means. This inevitably results in different positioning. But it is fair to say that Germany came through this year of complex crises comparatively well. In this respect we have lived up to our responsibility.
The next fight could be imminent. As of now, the Atomic Energy Act states that the "authorizations for power operation for the Isar 2, Emsland and Neckarwestheim 2 nuclear power plants will expire at the end of April 15, 2023". Does it stick?
I do not wish to participate in the renewed debate. My position is clear, but I have not been able to fully implement it: If I had had to decide on my own, the three German nuclear power plants would have been operated with new fuel rods until spring 2024. That would have had a positive effect on energy security and electricity prices, as well as a positive effect on German CO2 emissions. Within the federal government and the coalition, however, only operation until April 2023 was politically achievable. The Minister for Economy and Climate Protection has ultimate responsibility for energy security, energy prices and CO2 emissions.
Shouldn't new fuel rods have been procured long ago to extend the service life?
The delivery time for fuel rods is given as ten months. Acceleration might be achievable. Technically, you could reach the coming winter.
The 2022 state elections did not go well for the FDP, and the polls have also been well below the federal election results in the federal government for quite some time. Why is it?
Party-political issues were not and are not my priority this year. I think I'm representative of the population. That's why I'm concentrating on two things: on the one hand, to get the country through this difficult phase well, and on the other hand to push ahead with modernization projects. They are currently somewhat overshadowed by reactive action in this energy war. But they create profile. Next year will be the share pension - what I call generational capital in pension insurance. We will have the Future Financing Act, with which we will provide impetus for additional investments in the modernization of the country from the private sector and with which we will improve the framework conditions for start-ups. We have started an excellence initiative for vocational training. I believe that these modernization projects and good governance during the crisis will further strengthen the FDP.
41 percent of Germans have the impression that there are more disputes between the governing parties than there used to be between the Union and the SPD. Only 10 percent think there is less trouble at traffic lights than in the grand coalition. Where does this impression come from?
We are acting under great pressure due to the external circumstances of a war, inflation and the consequences of the corona pandemic that have not yet been fully overcome. This is done by three parties that have very different ideas and values. The process occasionally rumbles. It would certainly be a relief if things could be clarified, as we did during the coalition negotiations. However, at that time a manageable number of people negotiated. Now large staffs in ministries are busy formulating policy. Leaks and cross shots are almost inevitable.
FDP politicians spend a lot of energy trying to set themselves apart from the "left" parties at traffic lights. Could it be that FDP supporters want to hear more about what their party has achieved and less about what prevented them? Especially since a political science truism says that middle-class voters in particular do not like arguments.
I'm increasingly reluctant to take part in such meta-debates. One should do what is right. I fight for my beliefs. I don't really care if someone likes it or if it's annoying. If it is my belief that tax increases are detrimental to jobs and to investment in the country's regeneration, then I will prevent tax increases. On the other hand, if I am convinced that we need extended tax exemption for photovoltaics, if I believe that we need cheaper depreciation for the construction of new affordable apartments, then I will fight for it.
Chancellor Scholz said he wanted "the governing coalition to be in such a good position that it would be given the mandate again." Do you want that, too, or is it actually enough for you?
My advice is that the FDP go into the next federal election as an independent force and that a decision will then be made on the basis of content as to how things will continue from 2025 to 2029. But if a government that has delivered good results and brought the country forward is confirmed - then there is nothing to prevent it from continuing. For me, the following still applies: it is better not to govern than to govern incorrectly. But also the reverse: If you can govern well, you shouldn't leave the country to others.
Hubertus Volmer spoke to Christian Lindner