First Green State Governor: 'I Want a Quiet Revolution'

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Kretschmann: This concept of growth is outdated because it doesn't distinguish between negative and positive effects.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.

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