Federal Development Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) promises Ukraine quick help in the FOCUS interview, rejects calls for tax increases from her own party and takes Friedrich Merz to court.
FOCUS: Ms. Schulze, for the reconstruction of Ukraine, EU Commission President von der Leyen and Chancellor Scholz are calling for a “Marshall Plan of the 21st Century”. Is the historical comparison appropriate?
Schulze: Yes, because we are currently experiencing the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in Europe since the Second World War. In the coming years it will not only be about rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure in Ukraine. It will also be about showing the 44 million Ukrainians a perspective.
What does that mean specifically?
The people of Ukraine don’t just want to rebuild their country as it was before the war. Reconstruction must be sustainable. For example, it is now necessary to repair destroyed power lines and traffic routes so that they fit in with the future requirements of climate neutrality.
However, that will be very expensive. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Schmyhal put the financial requirements at $750 billion. Who should raise these sums?
One thing is clear: Reconstruction is a generational project that the global community must tackle together. This also requires investments from the economy. But everything depends on when this terrible war ends. Putin could end it immediately.
SPD leader Saskia Esken is bringing a property levy into play to finance the reconstruction plans. Do we need tax increases for Ukraine in this country?
In view of the high inflation, the federal government has decided to relieve the burden on the citizens. At current energy prices, that’s the right answer.
For weeks, Russia has been attacking Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure with drones and rockets. According to the government in Kyiv, a third of the power plants have been destroyed and there are local blackouts. Can you promise quick help from Germany?
We will do everything to ensure that the people of Ukraine survive the winter. Through our immediate program, we’ve delivered medical supplies, generators, fire engines and clearing equipment. This material is on site and helps immediately. In total, our aid commitments amount to around 600 million euros. This includes funds for the repair of destroyed energy, health and water infrastructure. And for housing for internally displaced people who are fleeing the attacks to other parts of the country. We coordinate this closely with the Ukrainian government and deliver what is needed as quickly as possible.
Aren’t guns like Iris-T more important than excavators and aid money right now?
You can’t play one off against the other. The people of Ukraine need military support just as badly as they need a roof over their heads, electricity, water and heat. Both must be guaranteed. That is why it is right to start talking about reconstruction now.
You were in Ukraine in May. What moment do you remember?
I was in the devastated town of Borodyanka north of Kyiv. The mayor, with tears in his eyes, told me that he developed an emotional connection to a mobile light tower that helped him and his people rescue people from the rubble. I was impressed by the strength of the Ukrainians, their determination to keep going despite the odds.
Before the war, Ukraine was ranked 122nd out of 180 in Transparency International’s corruption index, despite major reform efforts. How do you intend to prevent the funds for reconstruction from trickling away?
The government in Kyiv is also aware that corruption is a big problem. We’re not just going to put money in a big pot and hope that somehow it goes into the right channels. Instead, we want to agree on concrete projects and create transparent conditions.
But how do you control that?
We work a lot with the municipal level and with several ministries. This decentralized approach has proven effective against corruption. In addition, together with our international partners such as the World Bank, we ensure that the funds are used correctly.
Will Ukraine join the EU in 2030?
I can’t say that today. In any case, we will help to make it happen as quickly as possible.
Should Russia be obliged to participate financially in the reconstruction?
Morally yes. Legally it will be difficult. In my view, it is too early for such debates anyway. First, Putin must end this terrible war. Because the situation is not only dramatic for Ukraine, but is sending shock waves across the world.
Grain freighters from the Ukraine have been able to cast off again since August. Does this mean that the danger of a global famine has been averted?
No, not for a long time. The delivery failures of this year can no longer be compensated, and the prices for food and fertilizer have risen enormously. We are facing a crisis that affects the whole world. That is why the G7 countries have set up an alliance for food security. With this we want to ensure that aid arrives quickly and in a targeted manner in needy countries, especially in Africa.
Tens of thousands are currently fleeing to Germany not only from Ukraine but also from other crisis areas. How do you assess the situation?
We are indeed seeing increasing refugee movements around the world. Incidentally, the vast majority flee to neighboring countries, not to Europe. Many of the 100 million people fleeing the world are internally displaced. The reasons are varied, it has to do with human rights violations and wars, but climate change is also having an ever-increasing influence.
The government has started a new admissions program, and around 1,000 people from Afghanistan are to be allowed to enter Germany every month. Isn’t that the wrong signal given that accommodation is full?
No, that is an absolutely correct signal. We must not abandon particularly vulnerable people, such as human rights activists. We have to get the ones who are in mortal danger out of there. It is a manageable number that we can easily cope with.
You can’t understand Friedrich Merz’s criticism that the government is creating pull factors?
I can only recommend that you take a look at the situation on site. I think this is a real ghost debate – and frankly, it’s not particularly Christian either.
It is often said that the causes of flight must be tackled. But wars, floods and regimes of terror cannot be banned from Germany by law.
That is why long-term development cooperation is needed. Not only in the fight against hunger and poverty, but also in building democratic structures or dealing with climate damage. This is enormously important so that people don’t have to flee in the first place.
At the UN climate conference in Egypt in November you want to advance your plans for a global climate risk protection umbrella. Industrialized countries should therefore pay for climate damage in developing countries. Do you have supporters – or is it a German solo effort?
It is a German initiative that we developed together with countries that are most affected by climate change, such as Bangladesh. The idea has met with broad support from the G7 and we are campaigning for support for more developed countries to follow.
How much will it cost Germany?
An amount in the double-digit millions is planned as start-up capital.
That doesn’t sound like much…
It is important to me that Germany leads the way here. And I assume that we will get more donors.
Your predecessor Gerd Müller was present as a political missionary, so far you have acted inconspicuously. Will you remain so reserved?
As a social democrat, I don’t really like missionary work, but seriously: I don’t think I’m reserved.
The FDP is calling for the supply chain law of your predecessor to come into force in 2024 instead of January 1, 2023, so as not to put an additional burden on companies. Why are you against it?
Above all, companies need reliability. The law has been passed and announced for a long time. We won’t cause any confusion now by unlacing it again. The supply chain law is coming.
After taking office, you asked for more money for your department. Instead, the coalition is cutting development aid. How much does that annoy you?
The entire federal budget will shrink by ten percent in 2023. My share of it remains the same, but yes: this is a cut that is painful, especially in times when the demands are growing. That’s why I’m glad that the federal budget contains a provision: five billion euros extra, especially for my ministry and the Foreign Office, to be able to react to crisis situations. I am afraid that we will need this money very soon.
Why does Germany still afford its own development department? Couldn’t the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also take on the tasks?
Why should one abolish such an important and successfully working ministry? Development policy tackles the task of jointly creating a world in which everyone can lead a good life. Incidentally, this is also a key contribution to security policy.
In what way?
By building networks and doing preventive work to prevent wars and conflicts. Not only military security but also human security is important nowadays.
Your own party is currently arguing about the term “leading power”. Should Germany also step up militarily, as your party leader is demanding?
What we need is a triad of defense, diplomacy and long-term cooperation. There are great expectations of Germany that we should live up to. And to be honest, there aren’t many others who can do it right now.
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