Status: 21/09/2023, 19:56 p.m.
By: Anne-Christine Merholz, Christian Deutschländer
FDP leader Christian Lindner wants more benefits in kind to be given to refugees during the asylum procedure – instead of money. © Anthea Schapp / Imago & Political Moments / Imago
FDP leader and Finance Minister Christian Lindner explains in an interview why unbridled migration is dangerous, the Free Voters in Bavaria have a poll high. And he has a recipe against the AfD.
It was planned that FDP leader Christian Lindner would personally give the interview in Frankfurt. But a corona infection got in the way of the finance minister. And so the conversation took place digitally – Lindner was in quarantine in Berlin. In Hesse and Bavaria, the state elections will take place in just over two weeks. He spoke to our editorial team about the elections, the dispute in the traffic light and the poll high of the Free Voters.
Its Secretary-General said: We are not taking anyone from Lampedusa. Is this just election campaign ringing or a tough coalition question?
Regaining control at the borders is central to the cohesion of our society. This extends far beyond election dates. By the way, disorderly migration is now costing us many billions of euros. This money is lacking for investments because for many years since 2015 there has been a lack of courage to be consistent. That is why we need a turnaround in migration policy that is comparable to the asylum compromise of the early 1990s. I perceive a great deal of openness to the immigration of qualified people, but no longer any willingness to tolerate disorderly migration into our social systems. The German government has already agreed on steps that differ from the previous government: for example, the protection of Europe's external borders, more returns, safe countries of origin – we have been waiting for this for years. But it's not enough.
That goes too far for the Greens. Does the direction in the coalition fit at all, not to mention the pace?
Some of the Greens have already jumped over their shadows. I appreciate that. But the problems require more consistency. We could, for example, have concluded readmission agreements with Georgia and Moldova before the summer recess and classified them as safe countries of origin if there had been a willingness to do so. It's time to do away with wishful thinking. From a responsible ethical point of view, too, the interest in control now outweighs the willingness to admit. Without the control of immigration, any system of public order and social security would inevitably collapse.
There is a push from the Union to make it compulsory for asylum seekers to work. Do you think that's illiberal?
You can consider everything. I prefer that asylum seekers ideally start their procedures from abroad and enter the country in the first place with a positive decision.
But many are already here. The principle of benefits in kind for rejected asylum seekers, at least the chip card – do you welcome these ideas?
In the case of rejected asylum seekers, I prefer repatriation rather than benefits. However, during the asylum procedure – which, by the way, needs to be speeded up considerably – we should focus much more on benefits in kind. We should also look into 'financial blocking': that cash benefits are not transferred to the countries of origin, as is too often the case at present. This could be achieved with a nationwide payment card, as proposed by the FDP.
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Let's take a look at the election in Bavaria: Do you consider Hubert Aiwanger to be a convinced democrat or a forgetful arsonist?
Everyone makes mistakes, everyone is allowed to change. What matters is how you deal with it. We have seen a salami tactic in Mr. Aiwanger's communication and no real demarcation. It wasn't credible to me.
Why does the FDP benefit from this?
My feeling is that many surveys in Bavaria are not about Mr. Aiwanger himself. Many people generally perceive the debates in the media as one-sided left-wing and are now venting their anger. Unlike in polls, however, you should not vote in elections with anger in your gut, but with brains.
Surprisingly, Horst Seehofer recently got in touch again. He recommends that the CSU in Bavaria form an alliance with the FDP, which unfortunately will not enter the state parliament. Is that nice of him – or a mess?
You can't accuse Horst Seehofer of not having a sense of political responsibility. He is right. Bavaria's prosperity depends on strong medium-sized companies and top companies that are successful on the world markets. This requires a Minister of Economic Affairs who wants to fuel innovation instead of regulars' tables and who can open doors on the world markets.
Elections are also held in Hesse, where the FDP is polling at 6 percent and the AfD at 16 percent. Is your party suffering from the AfD?
Our voters in Hesse tend to move between the FDP and the CDU. You can see, for example, that the Union is opening up to the left nationwide for tax increases and softening of the debt brake. If you don't want that, you should stick to us. My impression is that the AfD is a challenge for all parties, including the SPD. The voters and sympathizers of the AfD are by no means all right-wing extremists. These are people who experience the consequences of migration in their children's school and on the housing market. They wonder if work is still worth it. They complain about bureaucracy. These demands on politics must be taken seriously, then the AfD will also become smaller.
What do you think when someone like the historian Andreas Rödder says that one should be careful with the term firewalls, and at least in Thuringia one can imagine a CDU minority government tolerated by the AfD?
The AfD wants to lead Germany out of the EU and NATO. Thus, Germany would be politically isolated and economically ruined. Therefore, it must not be given power over this state.
After the vote on the tax reduction law in the Thuringian state parliament, you criticized the CDU for its cooperation with the AfD, but not the FDP. But the law could have been prevented by the opposition...
Why should the FDP prevent a reduction in real estate transfer tax? Rather, one should ask why the SPD, Greens and Left have no understanding for the fact that families are no longer able to finance an apartment or a house. If a democratic party such as the CDU submits a motion that corresponds to the FDP's programme, then we will vote in favour of it. Whether the Union accepts support for the AfD, it must clarify itself. I would have hesitated only because the Union is not really credible. Because almost everywhere it governs, the CDU acts differently. In Saxony, for example, it has increased the real estate transfer tax.
But the FDP state association of Thuringia still does not receive financial support for the election campaign?
The Conference of Treasurers of the FDP has determined on the basis of our party's internal rules that the conditions for this are not met.
In your traffic light coalition, there is still a dispute on the subject of basic child benefits. Will it now come to the cabinet next week? What is the timetable?
There has been an agreement for some time. We could have decided on that basis. However, there were deviations in the transfer to the law. For example, I do not think it is appropriate to include the Asylum Seekers' Benefits Act in this project. Our agreement was that there would be no extension of benefits, but that existing benefits would be made easier for families to use. We already have a level of social transfers that too often makes working people with low wages ask the question of meaning. This must not be the case. There must always be a clear wage gap. And among those affected by child poverty, there is often a connection with immigration. It's not always just more money that helps. What is needed is language support, integration of parents into the labour market, as well as better daycare centres and schools.
Another controversial issue is the price of industrial electricity. What do you think of the proposal made by your Green colleagues?
Where were the worries about the price of electricity when nuclear power plants were shut down at the instigation of the Green Nuclear Power Plants? This subsidy does not solve the problem, but creates new ones. If the citizens and small and medium-sized enterprises of the energy-intensive industry reduce prices, this is, firstly, a distortion of competition. Secondly, at the same time, the incentives for industry to invest in renewable energies through long-term supply contracts will be reduced. Allegedly, some now want to pay the industrial electricity price from the Climate and Transformation Fund. This is where the revenues from the CO₂ price go. In 2025, citizens will pay a good 13 billion euros. I am in favour of paying them a large proportion of it in 2025 as climate money per capita instead of the industrial electricity price. This strengthens the acceptance of climate protection as a whole.