Mathias Brüggmann has been traveling the Middle East as a journalist for decades. He will watch the World Cup in the emirate. Otherwise he thinks little of Qatar boycotts.
The football World Cup in Qatar begins in November, the federal government wants to replace Russian supplies with gas from the emirate, the country’s state fund has secured a large part of Porsche shares – the year 2022 shows how much Qatar’s influence on Germany has grown is. Author and correspondent Mathias Brüggmann, who describes the country’s rise from a forgotten peninsula to the world’s largest liquid gas exporter in his new book “1001 Macht” (advertisement), knows Qatar well. We spoke to him about the changes there, the growing influence of the emirate and its impact on Germany.
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FOCUS online: Mr Brüggmann, what is the most surprising thing you have learned about Qatar during your travels and research?
Mathias Brüggmann: A few things come to mind. I hadn’t read anywhere that Qatar not only has the much-discussed minimum wage of 275 euros a month for foreign workers. There is also a minimum wage for Qataris, which is quite a bit higher. The second is that Qatar is always referred to as a dictatorship or an autocracy. However, it is more of a tribal society in which the Emir decides in the end, but is dependent on important tribes and extended families. He must include them if he wants to govern in the long term.
So no comparison with Russia, where Putin actually decides largely alone?
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The minimum wage for foreign workers was only introduced during the preparation for the soccer World Cup. So can fans watch the national team in November and December without hesitation?
Brüggmann: Too much is said without hesitation. But I will look at them. I think calls for boycotts of Qatar and the World Cup are wrong. The living situation of many guest workers in Qatar is still largely precarious. Qatar is the only country in the region to have introduced a mandatory minimum wage. The country has also significantly improved the workers’ dormitories for at least a few hundred thousand of around 1.5 million guest workers. There is still work to be done. We must continue to address the issue and apply pressure. But we should acknowledge the improvements. Then we also offer other Arab states incentives to improve the situation of their tens of millions of guest workers.
If we boycott the one country that is making improvements, the society there learns that it can change what it wants, but in the end it just gets screwed over. Then she shuts herself off and reverses the changes.
How controversial are the changes in Qatar?
Brüggmann: Of course, some in Qatar want to roll back the improvements. Some entrepreneurs ask why they should pay so much more than companies in neighboring countries.
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The fact that the Qatari state fund holds large shares in German companies, including Porsche, VW and RWE, also makes it necessary to compensate. What are the emirate’s goals?
It’s like the World Cup: It’s about visibility. 20 years ago nobody knew where Qatar was. Now everyone knows the country. For Qatar, this visibility means above all security. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly spoken about Qatar like Russia about Ukraine. The fear of an attack is great in Qatar. If the country invests in German, European and global companies, governments in Paris, London or Washington cannot leave it uncommented when its neighbors attack it.
Does Qatar also want to prepare for the post-oil and gas era?
Brueggmann: Sure. Many of the companies that Qatar has invested in pay large dividends. The emirate wants to cover the national budget from this if the oil and gas revenues are lost.
Does this long-term orientation make Qatar a reliable partner?
Brüggmann: Qatar is a reliable long-term investor for German companies that doesn’t get too involved in management. I think many major German shareholders are satisfied with Qatar as an investor, above all much more satisfied than with hedge funds. Both sides benefit.
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The question of Qatar as a gas supplier remains. Will Germany get a more reliable partner in Qatar than in Russia?
Brüggmann: On the one hand, Qatar is not an imperialist country like Russia under Putin. On the other hand, Qatar is investing 45 billion in expanding its liquefied gas production and will double its production in the next few years. That makes it the natural partner for Germany. I rather complain that the German side has so far only made declarations of intent, but has not concluded any supply contracts for Qatari liquid gas.
Is that on the German side?
Brüggmann: I would put it that way. A few years ago, Qatar wanted to build liquid gas terminals in Germany. It never came to that because of German disinterest at the time. So we could have had the hectic expansion of the infrastructure that the federal government is now driving faster and cheaper.
Now it is important to conclude supply contracts with Qatar quickly. So far, the country has signed agreements with Asian countries for 25 or 30 years. The federal government wants to phase out fossil fuels faster and not commit as long. At the same time, however, a supplier also needs certainty so that his investments are worthwhile. There has to be a compromise here. We desperately need the gas for this and the next winter.
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Today, with investments in foreign companies, gas debates and the World Cup, Qatar has a much greater impact on our lives than it did ten years ago. Is that good or bad?
Brüggmann: It’s slightly positive. Cooperation with Qatar can bring a lot to Germany. We could not have flown our diplomats, soldiers and aid workers out of Afghanistan if Qatar had not supported us. As a mediator, the emirate now plays an important role that we should deepen, for example in development aid in other countries. Qatar is interested and we should be interested in ensuring that these tasks are not just left to Germany and Europe.