SPIEGEL Interview with CSU Leader Horst Seehofer 'I Have Never Considered the Term Populist to Be an Insult'

The Bavarian governor and leader of the center-right Christian Social Union, Horst Seehofer, 60, talks to SPIEGEL about the chances of a coalition with the business-friendly FDP after Germany's Sept. 27 election, his personal feud with FDP leader Guido Westerwelle and his admiration for Left Party boss Oskar Lafontaine.

Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer

Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer

As Germany prepares to go to the polls on Sept. 27, the main object of speculation is not who will be Germany's next chancellor -- Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, are so far ahead in the polls that a second term for Merkel seems certain -- but which coalition will form Germany's next government. A repeat of the "grand coalition" between the CDU/CSU and the center-left Social Democrats, which has governed Germany for the past four years, is a real possibility. But the CDU and CSU have made it clear that their preferred coalition partner is the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) -- a constellation that last ruled Germany from 1982 until 1998 under conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

One might expect the potential coalition partners to be cozying up to each other during the election campaign. Which makes the aggressive tone that CSU leader Horst Seehofer has adopted when talking about the FDP all the more surprising. In recent weeks, Seehofer has attacked the liberals in a series of harsh comments, saying that they lack a sense of "social equality" and that their "neo-liberal" approach could scare off voters. He has said he would not sign any coalition agreement with the party that foresees the rolling back of social benefits. FDP leader Guido Westerwelle has responded to the attacks by accusing the CSU of scoring an own goal and putting the desired CDU/CSU-FDP coalition in danger.

In an interview with SPIEGEL, Seehofer discusses the common ground between the CDU/CSU and the FDP and his personal feud with FDP leader Guido Westerwelle.

SPIEGEL: Why are you so dead set on continuing the current grand coalition government in Berlin, which brings together the center-left Social Democrats with Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and your Christian Social Union, the CDU's Bavarian sister party?

Seehofer: How on earth did you ever arrive at that conclusion? Early this year I was the first conservative politician to go on record saying that my preferred coalition partner at the federal level would be the Free Democratic Party.

SPIEGEL: But you have been saying some pretty negative things about the FDP recently. How do you expect people to believe you when you say the party you are attacking today is also the party you are lining up to be your coalition partner tomorrow?

Seehofer: The FDP is not our adversary, but it is a competitor, and it has a platform that is different from ours. That needs to be made clear. Nonetheless we have more in common with the FDP than with any of the other parties and, thus, a broader basis for being able to form a stable coalition.

SPIEGEL: We've come here today to take a closer look at that common ground with you.

Seehofer: Let's get started then.

SPIEGEL: First of all there is the issue of legal protection against dismissal. The FDP wants to liberalize the current laws. Would that be possible in a coalition with you and your party?

Seehofer: There will be no liberalization of the current laws providing protection against termination of employment as long as I have anything to say about it, because that would not result in the creation of a single new job.

SPIEGEL: The FDP wants to introduce a flat premium for statutory health insurance coverage, so that everyone pays the same -- as opposed to the current system, where premiums are based on income. What is your view on that?

Seehofer: There was a time when I put my political career on the line because of the fight I put up in the ranks of the CDU/CSU against the introduction of a flat premium, something that would have meant that a chief physician, say, would have paid the same amount as a nurse for health insurance coverage. You can be certain that we will not allow that idea to be revived.

SPIEGEL: Well what about the sector-specific minimum wage requirements that have been approved by the grand coalition. The FDP thinks they're superfluous.

Seehofer: The minimum wage requirements that have been approved have had a very positive effect. We have no intention of reversing that policy.

SPIEGEL: The FDP has been talking about reversing current policies regarding online searches of computers by security authorities, as well as re-allowing the commercial production of genetically modified crops in Germany. What is your position on that?

Seehofer: The CDU/CSU stands for a strong government in matters that involve the protection of our citizens. Online searches that are in full accordance with the principles of the German constitution are an important instrument in fighting crime. That is going to remain as it is. As far as genetic engineering is concerned, we in Bavaria don't want the commercial production of genetically modified crops. That's not something we are going to compromise on.

SPIEGEL: Let's take a look at family policy, then. The FDP is very much interested in making it possible for homosexual couples to adopt children. Are you going to be willing to compromise on this issue?

Seehofer: If what is involved goes beyond the adoption of the biological children of one of the partners then the answer is no.

SPIEGEL: Honestly now, why don't you simply admit that the SPD would be a much better fit for the CDU/CSU than the FDP?

Seehofer: Because it's not true. Thus far you have only asked me questions about some of the highly publicized differences we have with the FDP. They're not anything new. But over the next few years there is going to be a focus on three other key issues: jobs, jobs and jobs. We are only going to be able to achieve higher levels of employment if people are able to keep more of the money they earn. This is where the platforms of the CDU/CSU and the FDP constitute a better fit. The CDU/CSU and the FDP are the only ones who want tax cuts. There is also a lot of common ground when it comes to economic and financial policy.

SPIEGEL: Tax experts estimate that there are going to be declines in tax revenues to the tune of about €300 billion between now and 2012. Who do you expect to believe you when you say there will be tax cuts after the election?

Seehofer: There are going to be tax cuts, I can guarantee that. Our economy is in better shape than the experts had expected would be the case. And it is going to be in even better shape when people see that their hard work is rewarded and they have more money to spend. If we are able to come up with sums in the three-digit billions to bail out banks and major corporations, then we ought to be able to afford €15 billion in tax cuts to help out ordinary people and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

SPIEGEL: The FDP is calling for €30 billion.

Seehofer: Cutting taxes is the right thing to do. Imposing excessive burdens on our public budgets is not. What we need are moderate tax cuts. And this is what we will propose.


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