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Friedrich Merz: against the admission of refugees from Greece

Friedrich Merz on the drama in the refugee camps, the relaxation of Covid restrictions and his chances of being chaired by the CDU.

Berlin. Friedrich Merz sits in an attic of his house in Arnsberg in the Sauerland and turns on the computer: Interview with our editorial team, two weeks before the party congress, at which it is decided whether the former chairman of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group will still be heir to the Merkel era can. It's 9 a.m. and Merz is already in attack mode.

You were sure that you would become chairman of the CDU - and then you lost to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. How do you rate your chances of winning now - 25 months later, Mr Merz?

Friedrich Merz: I wasn't sure at all, but at that time I managed to get from zero to 48 percent within five weeks. This time I have a lot more time to prepare for the election. I am therefore very confident, but of course I will fight for every vote until the party conference.

And if it works, will you strive for the Chancellery with all your might?

Merz: The two party leaders of the CDU and CSU will talk about the candidacy for chancellor after our party conference. Historically, the CSU put the candidate for chancellor when larger parts of the CDU wanted that too. I don't see a similar situation today as in 2002 or 1980. But mutual respect demands that the CDU and CSU discuss this with one another and not unilaterally proclaim the candidate for Chancellor.

You have moved away from your demand to name the top candidate as early as possible. With this you are accommodating CSU boss Markus Söder. What is that supposed to mean?

Merz: I read that it should even have been a change in strategy. No, I still think we should make the decision soon. Nevertheless, there are good reasons, for example, to wait until the management bodies of the CDU and CSU can make and publish this decision in a joint face-to-face event. My comment is simply due to the fact that there are two independent parties who have to make this decision together.

There would be a certain logic in nominating the candidate with the best prospects: Söder does best in the polls...

Merz: And I am in the top group in the polls, although I currently have no political office at all. After the party conference, let's take a quiet look at the situation.

They represent a break with the Merkel era. Is the Union even trying to do this?

Merz: How did you come up with this formulation? The election of a new party chairman is always a turning point, but not a break, especially after 16 successful years. There is a legitimate claim in the Union that we position ourselves in terms of content and politics for the next ten years in such a way that we will continue to reach the majority of the population in Germany in the future. This is what all three candidates stand for - with different focuses and perhaps a fundamental difference...

...which would be?

Merz: How clearly we have to work out our profile. I am convinced that we should go into the next general election with a clear demarcation from our competitors. In plain language, this means that we have to commit ourselves to a number of issues.

Take the question of migration. What do you think is necessary to end the refugee drama in the Mediterranean?

Merz: I see it just like the Federal Chancellor: What happened in 2015/16 must not be repeated. We must therefore develop a common European asylum and immigration policy - right through to the decision to organize the reception, distribution and, if necessary, the repatriation of refugees mainly at the European external borders. Corresponding centers should be created there, where the asylum or refugee status is clarified and a decision on admission or rejection is made. That is an indispensable conclusion from the refugee crisis.

What does this mean for sea rescue in the Mediterranean? Where should the refugees be taken?

Merz: The best thing would be for these people not to drive off in the first place. Europe must make arrangements with the countries of origin or transit countries in order to prevent this illegal and life-threatening migration across the Mediterranean while it is still in the countries of origin. The clear message to the refugees and the smuggling organizations must be: It is life-threatening and it will not be successful.

What message is Germany sending with its deportation practice?

Merz: Germany has not been consistent enough with deportations everywhere in recent years, that has to change. But I have no illusions either: for the time being we will not be able to deport to the extent that it would actually be necessary. Take a look at Syria, for example: the moratorium expired at the turn of the year. Nevertheless, deportations will in fact and legally come up against limits. There are no flight connections to Syria and no open land routes. Syria is a country deeply torn by civil war. There are also humanitarian limits to deportation. Deportations to Syria will therefore only be possible in individual cases.

What should become of the refugees in the slum camps on Lesbos or in Bosnia?

Merz: Above all, the entire European Union has an obligation to help the refugees in the Balkans or on the Greek islands on the spot. The European Union does that too. Some of the refugees refuse to move into new accommodation. In some cases, the states concerned do not even try to distribute refugees to other countries in the European Union. However, this humanitarian catastrophe cannot be resolved by saying: everyone comes to Germany. This path is no longer open.

You mean we have to watch the misery?

Merz: No, and Germany doesn't do that either. It's about improving people's situation on the spot. Germany has already made a disproportionately large amount of money available for this. Bringing the refugees to Germany cannot be the solution.

There is some hope in the Covid pandemic - vaccinations have started. But even in Germany there is a lack of vaccine, although the vaccine was developed in Mainz. What went wrong?

Merz: The problem seems to be with the national orders for the vaccine. But you should ask the Federal Minister of Health that.

You will have an idea of ​​how to boost vaccine production.

Merz: We obviously have a very fundamental problem: We practically no longer have any pharmaceutical production in Germany. This is now becoming clear like a magnifying glass, because we all urgently need the vaccine. Maybe this is a wake-up call to German politics and also to German society that we have to rebuild pharmaceutical industrial production in Germany. To outsource the whole thing to India and China was a mistake.

This knowledge does not help in the short term.

Merz: I don't want to give the Federal Minister of Health any advice from afar. He'll know what to do.

Do you agree with the order in which vaccinations are given?

Merz: Yes, provided that the staff in hospitals, old people's homes and nursing homes are also taken into account as soon as possible. These are the heroes of everyday, and they are entitled to be protected as quickly as possible.

Personally, you can have no worries. You already had Corona.

Merz: Still, I'll get vaccinated as soon as possible. My GP tells me that my immunity to the virus is decreasing. I had a relatively mild infection. And there seems to be a connection between the severity of the disease and the duration of immunity.

In a few days the heads of government from the federal and state levels will get back together. What decisions do you expect?

Merz: I would like a standardized approach as possible. What complains most to me is not the economic damage caused by the lockdown, but the massive damage to our children's education from the closed schools. Children from socially disadvantaged and poorly educated families suffer most from this. In my opinion, this is the greatest challenge during and after the pandemic.

The Baden-Württemberg Minister of Education, Susanne Eisenmann, faces demands to resign because she wants to reopen the schools on January 10th.

Merz: Susanne Eisenmann has the courage to say something right, namely that the schools have to be reopened as soon as possible. And it is also the political will of all those involved to go in this direction depending on the incidence situation.

Should exams be made easier or grades raised in order to give high school graduates a better start at the universities in this Corona year?

Merz: We should close the gaps that are now emerging in analog lessons with good digital formats. And here too, unfortunately, you have to say: The past summer was not used enough to prepare digital lessons. I really regret that.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz wants to pay special Covid aid as long as the lockdown lasts. Is that reasonable?

Merz: Before more money is promised, the Federal Minister of Finance should first ensure that the so-called November and December aid are paid out.

How should the debt be paid off?

Merz: First of all, it would be necessary to point out that it cannot go on indefinitely. For the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, we have a finance minister who obviously knows no limits when it comes to spending money. I'm not one of those who say inflation is coming next year. Nevertheless, we have to look to the end of the spending spiral. For me, the target date would be 2022. That year we should return to the debt brake. We must keep in mind the dimensions of the current debts: The federal government will incur as much new debt in two years as would have been permissible in 25 years, i.e. in a quarter of a century, with the debt brake of the Basic Law.

The SPD leadership wants to encumber large assets in order to pay off the debt - and calls Konrad Adenauer as a role model.

Merz: The equalization of burdens from 1952 was right and necessary after a devastating war. Despite all the problems, we should not compare the Covid crisis with the Second World War. In Germany we still have a very healthy basis for our economy.

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