With the change from Horst Seehofer to Nancy Faeser at the head of the Federal Ministry of the Interior there was a generation change – and a cultural change. In an interview, the first woman in office explains how she sees migration and why she kept the homeland department.

The homeland department in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, which was created at the insistence of the CSU, is given a different orientation under the new head of the house, Nancy Faeser. In an interview with the German Press Agency, the former leader of the SPD state parliamentary group from Hesse also tells how quickly her move to Berlin was bagged and why fighting right-wing extremism is also a matter close to her heart.

Faeser’s move from the opposition bench in the Hessian state parliament to the head of the Federal Ministry of the Interior in December 2021 came as a surprise: many observers had guessed that today’s Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) was the first woman to hold this office. The 51-year-old has not yet responded to speculation that Faeser could leave the cabinet prematurely in order to become the top candidate of the Hessian SPD in 2023.

Question: What is the homeland department created by the CSU doing in the Federal Ministry of the Interior?

Answer: I rebuilt and reinforced them. I turned the home department into a department to strengthen our democracy, to prevent any form of extremism and for social cohesion.

Question: Looking back at the coalition negotiations: You were already involved there, but your appointment as Federal Minister of the Interior came as a surprise to many. How much time did you think about it when Olaf Scholz asked you if you wanted to do it?

Answer: I didn’t have much time to think about it. Olaf Scholz called me on Sundays and I was in front of the camera on Mondays. It’s a very nice job for me, because I’ve done domestic politics for 15 years and can now put things into practice. For me, internal security is a question of social justice. I want all people to live freely and safely in our society, no matter where their families came from, what they believe in, who they love or how much money they have. I am the Federal Minister of the Interior with all my heart and passion – in difficult times.

Question: When you took office, you named the fight against right-wing extremism as a priority. Is that also for personal reasons?

Answer: Yes, the murder of the Kassel District President Dr. Walter Lübcke was very close to me through a neo-Nazi. I knew him well. And the right-wing extremist attack in Hanau had a great impact on me, because I got to know the families of the victims so well and their fates still move me to this day. But I have also experienced other forms of extremism. During the actions against the construction of the Autobahn in the Dannenröder Forest in Hesse, I spoke out very sharply against violent left-wing extremism. Wires were stretched across the forest, at the height of the police officers’ heads. And as Federal Minister of the Interior, I am of course also concerned with the continuing acute threat of Islamist terrorism. How present this is in Europe, we only had to see last weekend at the terrible act in Oslo against the queer community.

Question: How can this be counteracted at an early stage?

Answer: When it comes to preventing extremism, we need a very diverse approach. That starts with a good social policy. It is also extremely important to convey respect for one another and democratic values ​​in day-care centers and schools. These are the most effective projects that start very early on. Prevention is extremely important. That is why we will also support social commitment much more. To this end, together with Family Minister Lisa Paus, I will get the Democracy Promotion Act off the ground by the end of the year. This will finally give the many great democratic initiatives in our country more planning security. We want to promote political education and social commitment comprehensively and reliably.

Question: How did you find the Bundestag debates on the Ukraine war, what might have bothered you there?

Answer: Of course, on the far right, there was a clumsy attempt to misuse every crisis for division and contempt for human beings. But that doesn’t catch. Neither does the Russian propaganda and disinformation catch on. For example, it is claimed that there are mass attacks on people with Russian roots in Germany. That’s wrong. We have always made it clear from the beginning of the war that it is Putin’s war. It’s not the war of people with a Russian migration background living in Germany. Narratives like that annoy me.

Question: Taking in the war refugees from Ukraine was a challenge – can Germany overcome it?

Answer: At the beginning of the war I was annoyed that there was a lot of discussion about what can and cannot be done. Meanwhile, an unbelievable number of citizens and government agencies have lent a hand and to date more than 850,000 refugees – mainly women and children – have been taken in and cared for. We did many things much better than during the last major flight movement in 2015.

Question: The admission of Ukrainian war refugees here in Germany and also in other EU countries is relatively unbureaucratic, also with regard to quick access to basic security benefits and to the counseling services of the job center. There are now demands that all those seeking protection should be treated in this way in the future. How do you feel about this?

Answer: It is a historic success that we have been able to grant immediate protection to refugees from the terrible war in Ukraine throughout the EU – in all countries, quickly and unbureaucratically. That was a great achievement, and unanimously so. It was difficult to pull off. We have worked very, very hard on this.

I am also very happy that we have now succeeded in taking a step forward for other refugees at the European level. We live up to our humanitarian responsibility.

Question: What does that mean?

Answer: We also open the integration courses in Germany to everyone as soon as they arrive. Communicating our values ​​and our language is always important, even if people are only here in Germany temporarily. I changed that for Afghans shortly after I took office.

We are now creating the right of residence that we agreed in the coalition agreement. In this way, we are finally giving people who have long been well integrated into our society a secure perspective. We are ending the previous practice of chain tolerance – and with it the bureaucracy and uncertainty that was associated with it. Critics say that this has a pull effect. This is nonsense. Because it’s only about well-integrated people who have been living here for five years. It’s about people who want to get involved. So far I haven’t met anyone who works in this area, including in the immigration authorities, who doesn’t think it’s absolutely right. Cities and communities in particular have long wanted a chance of residence. I get very positive feedback. And even in the Union there are some who support me there. For example, the Prime Minister of Hesse, Boris Rhein, expressly welcomed my initiative.

Question: With Franziska Giffey and Manuela Schwesig, there were already two SPD politicians who were first federal ministers and then became heads of government in one country. Is that the silver bullet for SPD politicians?

Answer: Both are strong prime ministers who have gone their own way. If you want to address me with this: I am the Federal Minister of the Interior and Homeland with heart and soul. My full power goes to this office.

Question: Assuming that you are not Minister of the Interior by the end of the legislative period, but instead find another job, would it then automatically have to be a woman again, as with the change in the Ministry for Family Affairs?

Answer: That is a question that does not arise at all. With me, for the first time, a woman is responsible for internal security in our country, and it was about time for that. I don’t speculate about my position, I fulfill it.

Interview: Anne-Beatrice Clasmann, dpa