Interview with new Green Party governor in Baden-Württemberg (state) Germany

Thanks to Paul Ray!

Here is an interview with the first rational politician I have discovered; by which I mean someone who understands that we need a new economic model, one that puts the health and functionality of both the people and the environment first, and then seeks to figure out how to make a profit within those parameters.

Compare Kretschmann’s views with those of the willfully ignorant political prostitutes who litter the US landscape.

‘I Want a Quiet Revolution’

Der Spiegel (Germany) May 19, 2011

Winfried Kretschmann, 62, is the new governor of Baden-Württemberg and the first-ever leader of a German state from the Green Party. In a SPIEGEL interview, he talks about redefining economic growth, his plans to make industry more environmentally friendly and the future of nuclear power in Germany.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Kretschmann, you have just become governor of Baden-Württemberg, the first-ever state governor from the Green Party in Germany. Baden-Württemberg has the strongest economic growth of all of Germany’s 16 states, as well as the second-lowest rate of unemployment and the third-healthiest public finances. Can someone who governs a state like that simply sit back and say: Keep up the good work?

Kretschmann: No.

SPIEGEL: Why not?

Kretschmann: Because our prosperity is merely on loan. Our entire economy and lifestyle are incompatible with our economic foundation. We’re facing the challenge of the century. If we want to maintain our prosperity in the long term, we must find a way to reconcile environmental protection and economics. So where better to start than here?

SPIEGEL: The economy of the state of Baden-Württemberg grew by 5.5 percent last year. Is that good or bad?

Kretschmann: This concept of growth is outdated because it doesn’t distinguish between negative and positive effects. If you crash your car into a tree and total it, you’re helping to promote economic growth. We therefore need a new yardstick that provides information about whether growth also increases well-being.

SPIEGEL: What sort of a new measure do you have in mind?

Kretschmann: I don’t know yet. The traditional definition of growth, which measures prosperity solely in terms of the increase in the gross domestic product, is a dead-end solution. We can see where it’s taking us. This global economic model is hurting our planet.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, the strong economic growth in your state has helped Baden-Württemberg attain the second-lowest rate of unemployment in Germany, behind Bavaria.

Kretschmann: One way to heat your living room is to burn your wooden flooring. But sooner or later it’s cold again and you’re left standing on a stone floor. That’s what we’re talking about. And that’s the challenge. Why should a Green politician become governor in Baden-Württemberg, if not to meet this challenge?

SPIEGEL: So no growth?

Kretschmann: Of course I want that, but not come what may. It must be sustainable. Unfortunately, regional governments can’t do more than that. After all, I can’t decide what will grow and what won’t. But we can create the conditions in which the economy will grow in a certain direction. And that’s what we plan on doing.

SPIEGEL: Your state’s economic success is based primarily on traditional German industrial sectors, such as the automotive, electrical, metalworking and chemical industries. Are these “bad” industries?

Kretschmann: No. They are the pillars of our economy. But new industries are coming along. Environmental technologies and renewable energy are becoming the core industries of our economy.

SPIEGEL: What will happen to the traditional industries?

Kretschmann: We will have to transform them. Baden-Württemberg must remain an outstanding auto-industry location, but we must ensure that different types of cars are being produced. We want green product lines to be developed in all the traditional core areas of the industry. That will secure our prosperity because it is the only way to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

SPIEGEL: That won’t be possible without significant state intervention.

Kretschmann: I wouldn’t call it significant intervention but, rather, a clear political framework. For example, take CO2 emission limits: We want to lower these step-by-step in a way that can be planned and calculated within the framework of technological advances. In that way, we will be doing these industrial sectors a favor.

SPIEGEL: That’s not how they see it.

Kretschmann: Quite the contrary. These sectors want a clear and predictable environmental regulatory framework that will enable them to capitalize on their know-how and their technological lead. Although we already have that, we must now speed things up and point all areas of industry in the right direction. I’m a firm believer in having clear regulatory policies within which entrepreneurship can unfold.

SPIEGEL: Surely that would primarily benefit the neighboring state of Bavaria, which can’t wait to lure companies away.

Kretschmann: I don’t think I need to be particularly worried about that. That’s simply a hangover from the recent state election campaign. Here in Baden-Württemberg, we have very good relations with our core sectors, and they want us to lay out a clear regulatory framework. As such, we are creating optimal conditions for companies by pushing for green product lines.

SPIEGEL: But, if not Bavaria, it will be countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland that will try to benefit from your policies.

Kretschmann: We’re not talking about a green playground here. The threat of climate change is a problem for humanity as a whole. We will stay ahead of the field by being an economic location that manufactures in a way that conserves resources and energy — and that therefore cuts costs. It’s something we’re taking seriously. That’s why we’re leading the government. If not, there wouldn’t be a need to change anything. We want to be a flagship for a new kind of development. Sustainability is not a concept dreamt up by an ecology think tank. It is crucial for our future prosperity.

SPIEGEL: Unfortunately, other parts of our world and other countries have completely different perceptions of climate change.

Kretschmann: That’s why it’s important to take a measured and cautious approach when establishing the regulatory framework. It must be strict enough to direct investment, but not so tough that it knocks companies out of the market. That means being able to tell when companies have justified complaints and when they are just whining. And that’s something I believe I can do.

Part 2: ‘We Have a Narrow Timeframe in Which to Halt Global Warming’

SPIEGEL: How can you be so confident about your economic skills?

Kretschmann: What do you mean?

SPIEGEL: With all due respect, you’re a high-school teacher, not an economic expert.

Kretschmann: Would you put the same question to Angela Merkel, who is a trained physicist? But, seriously, we are the people who created the so-called “Realo” faction within the Green Party (eds note: the Realos are known for their pragmatic approach to politics, as opposed to the “fundamentalist” environmentalists in the party). We spent 30 long years sitting on the opposition benches, which are so hard they force you to reflect. So we did a lot of thinking and developed a lot of ideas, ideas that are feasible and financially viable. Over the course of three decades of constructive preparation in opposition, we have considered all the central economic issues. So I’m well-prepared.

SPIEGEL: If you include the people who didn’t bother to vote, the Greens won the support of just 16 percent of eligible voters in the state election. Is that enough of a mandate for making such sweeping reforms in your state?

Kretschmann: The regional parliament — including two members of the opposition, I should add — elected me as their state governor. That gives me a mandate. We’re living in a representative democracy, after all. But we are not out to radically reshape Baden-Württemberg.

SPIEGEL: It certainly sounded like it.

Kretschmann: We’re taking it one step at a time. We will also be adopting a careful approach to reforming the education system. I want to be responsible for policies that are lauded for their prudence. Nobody needs to fear that we’re going to turn everything on its head. I want a quiet revolution. We have to speed things up because we have a narrow timeframe in which to halt global warming, but people aren’t even worried about most of what we plan to do. After all, who’s going to complain if our cars consume half as much gas in the future?

SPIEGEL: We suspect that quite a few people will start complaining if hordes of windmills are constructed in the Black Forest, though.

Kretschmann: It goes without saying that every new wind park has an impact on the landscape, but that’s a completely different order of magnitude compared to the burning of fossil fuels to create electricity and the associated severe damage this does to our planet. Not to mention nuclear power, which creates waste that produces deadly radiation over thousands of years.

SPIEGEL: That toxic waste may soon be radiating in Baden-Württemberg now that you have permitted your state to be included in the search for a suitable long-term storage site for nuclear fuel.

Kretschmann: I never said being a Green state governor would be a piece of cake. We can’t deny that we have spent nuclear fuel. So you have to put it somewhere. I don’t take the not-in-my-backyard approach. And surely there’s nothing wrong with the fact that scientific criteria are being used to look for a suitable storage site across Germany. People who won’t allow even that should get off their soap boxes and take responsibility. However, until the last nuclear power plant in Germany has been shut down for good, nobody is going to agree to a nuclear storage facility in their state.

SPIEGEL: What are your conditions?

Kretschmann: People have to be convinced that it’s over and no more waste is going to be produced. Only then can you ask people to take spent fuel if a suitable geological formation can be found. After all, you have to put that waste somewhere.

SPIEGEL: Is it enough if there is a binding agreement to end nuclear power?

Kretschmann: No. The last nuclear power plant has to be shut down irrevocably. We now have a tremendous opportunity to negotiate an agreement with the German government and the German parliament (and to) agree on an irrevocable phase-out of nuclear power. We have to seize this opportunity.

SPIEGEL: The government’s current proposal envisions Germany’s nuclear reactors being shut down by 2021. If you insist on nuclear plants being shut down before the location for a final storage site is chosen, that would mean that such a storage facility couldn’t be set up for at least another 10 years.

Kretschmann: We have plenty of time. Spent nuclear fuel rods have to cool down before they can be sent to a storage facility. But we have to use this time to seriously search for a suitable location, and searching also means being allowed to actually find a location. Otherwise it’s all just a sham.

SPIEGEL: Have you come under fire from within your own ranks for this approach?

Kretschmann: Not at all. Our policies are sustainable and responsible. Even so, living in a democracy also means inheriting your predecessor’s mistakes. Nuclear power is an example of this, and you have to be responsible about it. That’s one of our core values. So we certainly can’t avoid the issue of nuclear waste, even if it’s simply an inherited problem.

SPIEGEL: You want to make far-reaching changes to your state, but at the same time you want more public involvement. Isn’t it more than likely that the latter aim will stymie the former, given the recent wave of citizens’ initiatives and NIMBY-style protests in Germany?

Kretschmann: We are simply reacting to a development within our civil society. More and more people are rejecting the insane, one-sided notion of progress that bigger is better. The Stuttgart 21 project is a prime example of the old concept of progress. Building a futuristic train station is the sort of thing Dubai would do. It smacks of trying too hard to be modern.

SPIEGEL: What then is truly modern?

Kretschmann: You can see it in the under-30s: They don’t think in terms of grandiose projects anymore. For them, modernity is the Internet, not some senseless underground train station.

SPIEGEL: According to a survey commissioned by the Herbert Quandt Foundation, two-thirds of Germany’s under-30s are no longer prepared to automatically accept democratically reached decisions. Do you find that disturbing?

Kretschmann: I find that extremely disturbing, but there’s no point in crying about it or bemoaning political apathy. Who better than us Greens, who grew out of the protest movement and now govern an industrial heartland, to rebuild the bridge between civil society and our country’s institutions and to re-establish the lost mutual trust? How can you convince a rebellious people to accept the decisions of their institutions once more? That is the biggest challenge.

SPIEGEL: Do you have a solution?

Kretschmann: I don’t promise a people’s paradise, but a people’s society. There will always be conflict, and nothing we do is going to dislodge majority rule. That means the minority will have to accept the decisions that are taken by the majority. The question is: Is there a fair debate? That’s something the institutions have to ensure. Is it civilized? That’s up to the people themselves.

SPIEGEL: Do you intend to change Baden-Württemberg’s relations with other states and the national government?

Kretschmann: My greatest hope would be for a third revision of our federalist model. The current financial relations among Germany’s states redistribute the wealth between them, but are completely opposed to incentives. That must be corrected ?

SPIEGEL: ? while taking advantage of the opportunity to give the national government more say in education policy again?

Kretschmann: Please, no! I am totally opposed to educational centralization. On the contrary, we want to transfer more power to local authorities and school boards. We need more creativity at the local level, not more uniformity. People are different. That’s one of my basic principles, inspired by the (German-born political theorist) Hannah Arendt. For me, centralization is a horror scenario.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Kretschmann, thank you for this interview.