SPIEGEL Interview With FDP Leader Westerwelle 'I Consider a Coalition With the SPD and Greens Out of the Question'
SPIEGEL: Does the entire FDP now subscribe to the populist slogan of its regional organization in Saxony, "Heart instead of Hartz"?
Westerwelle: Your polemics are unnecessary. In the coalition talks, I will personally make sure that the amount of assets that Hartz IV recipients are allowed to keep is trebled to 750 ($1,060) per year of life.
SPIEGEL: It would appear that not only has Chancellor Angela Merkel become a bit more of a Social Democrat but also Guido Westerwelle ...
Westerwelle: No, the other parties think that it is good social politics when they use state benefits to keep affected people more or less quiet. We, on the other hand, want to build bridges for them into working life while simultaneously helping those who have fewer opportunities as a result of disabilities or ailments. The most important task of social policies is to facilitate advancement through education.
SPIEGEL: Up to now, the FDP has seemed more concerned with supporting the elite.
Westerwelle: That is also important, but it's not enough. We need all-day schools, pre-school care and language instruction in immigrant districts. Today, Germany's educational system is almost as impenetrable as it was in the '50s. For those who are born in modest circumstances, it's almost like winning the lottery if they succeed in beating the odds and obtaining a higher education. Changing that is one of the reasons I want to be part of the government.
SPIEGEL: But you still want to relax rules protecting employees from being fired.
Westerwelle: We don't want to change rules protecting people from arbitrary dismissal. But we want to change the law on dismissal protection so that it only applies to employees who have worked for more than two years in firms with more than 20 employees. Small companies must remain flexible in line with their order books, that protects jobs.
SPIEGEL: You have often accused this government of being blind to basic civil rights. What changes do you want to make?
Westerwelle: The dramatic dismantling of civil rights started after the terror attacks in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. What was started by Otto Schily under the SPD-Greens government was continued by Wolfgang Schäuble in the grand coalition (editor's note: the former and current interior minister, respectively). First of all, we'll prevent the recurring conservative plan to turn the army into a kind of auxiliary police force inside Germany. I can state definitively that the FDP won't vote for the necessary constitutional change.
SPIEGEL: You're aiming for the office of foreign minister. What is the central message of FDP foreign policy?
Westerwelle: This isn't about cabinet posts. The FDP wants to continue the policy pursued at the best times when disarmament stood at the top of the list. Peace through disarmament will be the trademark of the next government that we belong to.
SPIEGEL: What does that mean?
Westerwelle: I will push through in the coalition talks that we Germans start talks with the US and our other allies on the removal of the last nuclear warheads: In the coming government term Germany will at last become free of nuclear weapons. The next two years will decide if we get a decade of rearmament or disarmament.
SPIEGEL: Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has given the conservatives a profile in economic policy and is luring voters away from the FDP. Does that irritate you?
Westerwelle: I'm looking forward to working with Herr von Guttenberg in government regardless of what post he has. With the FDP he'll have a coalition partner with whom he'll be able to implement the kinds of policies he wants.
SPIEGEL: The conservatives have come up with a new face, and the public seems very grateful for that. Doesn't your team of people, of whom most still hail from the era of Helmut Kohl, look pretty old?
Westerwelle: Your ageism is remarkable. The FDP has an excellent mix of experienced people and young talent.
SPIEGEL: If you fail a third time to get your party into government, who will replace you?
Westerwelle: The FDP's secret plan is to have me as chairman for life.
Interview conducted by Dirk Kurbjuweit and Petra Bornhöft.