SPIEGEL: Mr. Seehofer, do you know how the euro can be saved?
Seehofer: What I do know is that things can't proceed as Peer Steinbrück from the SPD suggested in SPIEGEL recently. His basic message is that Germany must pay regardless. In the CSU, we take a markedly more differentiated view of this.
SPIEGEL: This isn't the CSU we all know.
Seehofer: Oh, come on. Let me spell it out in no uncertain terms: The CSU is a pro-European party and I personally consider the European Union the greatest political idea of the post-war period. But the CSU is also a party which favors monetary stability. We have a clear line on this: We're willing to help out of a sense of solidarity, but solidarity and responsibility for one's own actions go hand-in-hand.
SPIEGEL: Steinbrück wants to introduce Eurobonds but wants to place the countries that profit from them under Brussels' control. What do you think about that?
Seehofer: Eurobonds just means collectivizing our debts. We don't go along with such a scheme under any circumstances. The Federal Constitutional Court has also drawn a red line there. In Bavaria, we are proud of our budget without new borrowing, which we've had continually since 2003 and which we want Germany to have as well by 2014. German employees have been very restrained when it comes to wages in recent years, making the German economy competitive. How can we justify to our electorate that we should take on Greek debt? Europe should be a union of stability, not of debt.
SPIEGEL: Angela Merkel warned you and FDP chairman Philipp Rösler not to talk up the possibility of a Greek bankruptcy.
Seehofer: You can't strengthen people's faith in the euro by just seeing things in black and white. Even a fervent supporter of European integration can still hold a controversial discussion on fundamental issues such as fiscal and economic policy. We have to realize that just because you sometimes ask critical questions, that doesn't make you a euroskeptic. I won't be intimidated.
SPIEGEL: The CSU wants to offer countries the possibility of leaving the euro zone. Should the Greeks give up the euro?
Seehofer: What I hope is that the path we've gone down now, with this combination of solidarity and responsibility for oneself, will be successful. But if the Greek government and parliament no longer want to or no longer can continue down that path, then we shouldn't wait until the financial markets force us to face up to the facts. In that case, an exit of Greece from the euro zone must be feasible. We have to face up to these realities. We won't convince anyone of anything by remaining silent.
SPIEGEL: So to be more specific: If the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and the EU Commission troika say that the Greeks aren't making enough of an effort, should the Greeks leave the euro zone?
Seehofer: If that was the case, they wouldn't receive the next tranche of money. When someone knows that they're going to get money even if they break the rules, we can give up any hope of stability in Europe. There's no support for that position among the German public.
SPIEGEL: The Chancellor says: "If the euro fails, Europe fails." She doesn't think Greece should leave the euro because she fears this could affect other countries. Is she wrong?
Seehofer: Even if the Greek government did leave the euro, that doesn't mean we'd abandon the country. We're ready to help Greece protect its banks and develop its economy.
SPIEGEL: Let me repeat: The Chancellor says: "If the euro fails, Europe fails." Is that a sentiment you can support?
Seehofer: No. I don't see the correlation. I think the European idea is very strong. It is alive. It is irreversible. But I don't think it's good to offer help in all circumstances, regardless of what the situation in Greece is. If you write blank checks, you weaken your negotiating position. The Chancellor doesn't want that to happen either.
SPIEGEL: Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen and others in the CDU believe the crisis highlights the need for Europe's integration to be accelerated. Their aim is a United States of Europe. What's wrong with that?
Seehofer: We don't want a bureaucratic European super-state, nor do we want a centralized EU government. The CSU always counters that with the model of a Europe of the regions. What can be decided at national level should be, from education to healthcare provision. But no-one has yet been able to explain to me how strengthening European institutions by giving them increased powers would contribute to solving current problems. The problem is that some euro zone countries have too much debt, not that there isn't enough administration in Brussels. I hope we can now put an end to this superfluous debate about a United States of Europe. It makes no contribution to solving the debt crisis. It is just talk.
SPIEGEL: How long can things go on like this in Berlin with a government in this crisis facing severe conflicts of interest?
Seehofer: We have a majority when it comes to voting on the increased bailout fund.
SPIEGEL: Must Merkel get her center-right own majority in the vote? Or will a simple majority do?
Seehofer: We still have the ambition to secure our own majority, otherwise people will say again that the government has failed.
SPIEGEL: FDP chairman Philipp Rösler has referred to the possibility of a Greek insolvency. Do you worry that the FDP is becoming a eurosceptic party?
Seehofer: No. I know Philipp Rösler to be a tolerant pro-European. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't call a spade a spade when things go wrong in Europe and try to find a solution for them.
SPIEGEL: The FDP is probably going to hold a referendum of its members on the euro. Ever since euroskeptic Peter Gauweiler threw his hat into the ring as a candidate to become deputy party leader, the CSU conference in October has threatened to turn into a populism fest. Are you competing with the FDP on who can be the harshest Europe critics?
Seehofer: No. When it comes to such fundamental questions, we have to act with the courage of our convictions. And it is my firm conviction that the European idea will suffer seriously if we exchange our stability targets for a transfer union.
SPIEGEL: Oxford economist Clemens Fuest thinks that's not so far from what you believe yourself: "Seehofer is a populist. From a legal point of view, it would be virtually impossible for individual countries to leave the euro," he says in reaction to your suggestions for ways to solve the euro crisis.
Seehofer: This is a political discussion we're having here, not a legal seminar. Economists have said a lot over the last 18 months: The Greek crisis was a one-off, the first bailout package would be enough, the bailout would calm markets and so on. Sadly, they've almost always got it wrong.
SPIEGEL: Germany came through the first part of the financial crisis fairly well when the grand coalition of conservatives and center-left SPD was in office. One gets the impression that things are much worse now than they were then, that the crisis management has lost its footing. What's that due to?
Seehofer: In the first half of its term, the government definitely did a lot of good things, although it didn't meet all expectations. No-one can argue with that. The summer recess showed the FDP and CDU's utterly superfluous self-obsession. That's the sort of thing that gets punished by conservative supporters immediately. Still, Germany's economy continues to shine.
SPIEGEL: Will the conservatives go into the 2013 general election stating a clear preference for the FDP as their coalition partner?
Seehofer: It will.
SPIEGEL: So we might see Horst Seehofer during the 2013 election campaign on a market square somewhere saying: "We want to carry on governing with the FDP." No one will believe you.
Seehofer: They would.
SPIEGEL: 33 percent for the conservatives plus, let's say, 5 percent for the FDP doesn't make a majority. The rules of arithmetic apply in Bavaria too. According to opinion polls, a center-right coalition would be hopelessly short of winning a majority.
Seehofer: Look, at the beginning of the year, Renate Künast was ahead of Klaus Wowereit in opinion polls. Berlin practically had a Green mayor. That was just six months ago. I can only recommend that we simply do a first-class job and then we'll be held to account. The FDP needs to improve its poll ratings somewhat, as do we.
SPIEGEL: The government now faces all kinds of contentious issues. Let's talk about tax: Before the summer recess, the coalition decided that there should be tax cuts from the start of 2013. Conservative parliamentary floor leader Volker Kauder has mentioned a figure of €5 billion. Is that right?
Seehofer: First we'll wait for the tax estimate in early November. I think we urgently need to stick to this sequence especially now, given that the effects of the euro crisis are so hard to calculate. Tax cuts mustn't jeopardize our sound fiscal policy, especially as there are other projects in addition to tax cuts which will cost money.
SPIEGEL: Such as?
Seehofer: In 2013 there'll be a childcare subsidy for parents who home-school their children. We have to help local authorities in those areas where reforms to the armed forces lead to the closure of sites. Then there's the matter of how we're going to finance future road-building. I envisage a comprehensive package of measures which will include tax cuts.
SPIEGEL: 2013 will be an important year for you for two reasons. The CSU will have to survive elections in Bavaria and at the national level. Is the yardstick of success for you at home in Bavaria still an absolute majority?
Seehofer: A party should always strive for the best possible results. But the benchmark now should be to lead the coalitions with the FDP in Bavaria and at the national level to success. We're not talking about being the sole party in power or alternative coalition partners. The coalition in Berlin now needs to do an excellent job. No more funny business!
SPIEGEL: Mr. Seehofer, we thank you for this interview.