Wolfgang Schäuble has been in the Bundestag for 50 years. That makes him a free spirit who not only speaks openly about Merkel, Maassen, Merz and the future of the CDU. FOCUS in an interview with Wolfgang Schäuble.

It will be his last term in office. That much is certain. Wolfgang Schäuble will no longer stand in the next election. He is now 80 and has been in parliament for 50 years, was the leader of the CDU parliamentary group and party, interior and finance ministers and president of the Bundestag, whom he looks at again in his office. Nobody has more political vision anyway.

FOCUS: Mr. Schäuble, if you were still in government responsibility – would you have decided earlier to send German tanks to Ukraine?

Wolfgang Schäuble: I’m glad that I no longer have to make such decisions. At the moment I didn’t want to be chancellor. In this office you end up being very lonely with such questions.

So do you understand Olaf Scholz’s hesitation?

Schäuble: I didn’t understand his way of communicating. But I know that there are things in this office that cannot be discussed. If he doesn’t want to fully explain himself, then so be it.

Are we currently experiencing the most difficult time since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany?

Schäuble: You always have to be a bit careful with superlatives. Building the Wall in 1961 was probably not easy for Adenauer either. At that time, however, several crises did not culminate at the same time – war, inflation, climate. Well, shortly after the Wall was built, the Cuban Missile Crisis broke out, and the world feared a nuclear war by the superpowers. But I admit: I would not have thought such a barbaric war as Putin’s was possible in the 21st century.

I see parallels to the idiocy of World War I, when states slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people for a few yards of territory over a period of years. And then keep playing with the nuclear option…! In fact, since the 1970s it has been taboo to threaten with the atomic bomb.

Are you happy that you no longer have any political responsibility in this situation?

Schäuble: These times can keep you from sleeping. But if I’m asked, I’m happy to give advice.

Then let’s ask for your advice for your own party. How’s the CDU doing?

Schäuble: I think it’s in relatively good condition.

Really? Some see her more in an identity crisis.

Schäuble: The CDU is doing well in its new role in the opposition under the leadership of Friedrich Merz. He keeps the balance between necessary criticism and state political responsibility. After the painful loss of power in the last federal election and the difficult replacement of Angela Merkel, none of this is easy. The CDU has by no means solved all the problems, but Friedrich Merz first had to bring them together again. It is also about the integrative power of a large middle-class party.

Recently, Merz was heavily criticized for calling the rampaging migrant offspring “little pashas”. He was accused of rather dividing society.

Schäuble: There was a lot of discussion about the statement. In essence, however, it is about the interference between published and public opinion. In such moments, he has the self-confidence to stay on course and not fall over immediately.

What course?

Schäuble: He also has in mind that the population without a migration background does not get the feeling that certain things are no longer allowed to be said.

Criticism of the “Pascha” statement also came from within his own party …

Schäuble: This debate is too narrow for me. Is New Year’s Eve really about migration? They were young people who – after two years of Corona – wanted to bang hard. The cultural background of the rioters is secondary. It’s about the lack of respect for the police and rescue workers, which the majority of people with a migration background also complain about. Respect has generally gone down a lot. You can also see that after car accidents, when people want to take pictures and attack rescue workers. Everyone has to follow the rules, with or without a migration background!

In 2005 you convened the first Islam conference…

Schäuble: … and at the time, people with foreign roots gave me credit for that because it made it clear that from now on we would talk to each other as equals. That was and is important.

At the same time, you said at the time that Germany was not a country of immigration, and in 2006 you tightened the right of residence. How did that fit together?

Schäuble: That was a good fit. Sure, it’s about empathy, but always about clarity. My son-in-law, the interior minister of Baden-Württemberg, used to call it “hardness with a heart”. We need immigration, if only because of the demographic development. But living together has to work. Integration is a challenge for both sides. Those who come to us certainly have the long way to go. But also the receiving society, i.e. we all have to make an effort to enable coexistence.

How should the CDU act in this area of ​​tension?

Schäuble: On the one hand, it should make it clear that every person in this country has their rights and dignity. That is what our basic Christian values ​​demand. On the other hand, that cannot mean that everyone who lives in need and misery in the rest of the world can come to Germany or Europe. And whoever is there has to abide by the rules.

Experts assume that the pressure on Europe’s external borders will increase again this year. How can the Federal Republic counter this?

Schäuble: Europe must solve this issue together. For years we have been making the mistake of wanting to distribute the arrivals equally to all member countries. It will never be like that.


Schäuble: We have to listen to those who simply cannot expect their own voters to move here. Maybe also because there is a lack of experience in some places. Xenophobia often grows strongest where there are hardly any foreigners.

So should Germany take on more responsibility?

Schäuble: We are already doing that. But we shouldn’t lecture others out of this responsibility: Poland, for example, is having a harder time with refugees from outside of Europe, but is currently doing an incredible amount for the people from Ukraine, is also supporting the country materially in the fight against Putin and is taking on a great deal of responsibility the NATO external border. Then how do we go about lecturing the Poles?

Your Answer?

Schäuble: We should generally stop trying to explain to others how they should live and act. Domestically, however, our society rightly expects leadership, which brings us back to the CDU: it’s not about telling the population what they might want to hear. We need to tell her what we think she should hear.

What does it mean to be conservative in 2023?

Schäuble : That’s not an easy question to answer. First of all, the Union defines itself through a political vision based on values. The image of man is important: we are gifted for freedom, but – theologically speaking – imprisoned in sin. The Christian faith no longer has a monopoly claim here. Christians don’t have to vote for the CDU, and CDU supporters don’t have to be Christians.


Schäuble : Anyone who is aware of this image of man tries to do justice to our human ambivalence politically. This requires limits and rules, but also the possibility of personal responsibility. Only in this way was the German economic miracle possible after the Second World War. The citizens of the GDR were no less smart or industrious, but their system did not live up to this potential.

It used to be about social and economic issues. And today?

Schäuble : Also about ecological issues. But we argued about that back in the 1990s. The CDU is not that old-fashioned. It was always about the question: does humanity have the potential to permanently damage the foundations of its life? Since that’s clear, we’ve been working on solutions and fixes. The CDU does not represent the model of the unbridled liberal market economy, but always a policy of responsibility and a sense of proportion. It may have taken us a little longer than the Greens, but the CDU is fully aware of its responsibility towards the next generation.

Do you understand the anger of youth?

Schäuble : It’s not about understanding, it’s about finding the right path. You can’t enforce everything with the means of sometimes illegal protest. Even climate protectors have to abide by the law and fight for majorities. The escalation fills me with concern.

Do you see signs of a radicalization of the climate movement?

Schäuble: Yes. I can only say: resist the beginnings! The terrorism of the German Autumn of 1977 also began with the protests against the monopoly of the Springer newspapers. If you now hear that left-wing extremists are trying to hijack the climate scene and use it for their own purposes, the state has to be vigilant. I say: with all due respect to your protest, but you must not impose your will with violence. The images of Lützerath were unbearable. It starts with violence against things. Violence against people continues.

Do you discuss with climate groups?

Schäuble: I get inquiries from time to time and I always say: “You’re welcome, if you guarantee me that we’ll have a decent conversation. Without screaming. You say what you think, I say what I think, it’s as simple as that.”

What do you think of the means of preventive detention that Bavaria uses, also against so-called “climate glue”?

Schäuble : The instrument is not easy from a legal point of view, but under certain conditions the state must be able to use harsh means to protect society. That’s what I always fought for, even as Minister of the Interior. We have an obligation to prevent crime. Sometimes deterrence is not enough. Not to make a one-to-one comparison, but to make it striking: a suicide bomber will not stop his act because he is threatened with imprisonment.

But is it proportionate to pre-emptively imprison a citizen because he may intend to block traffic?

Schäuble : I recommend first allowing the exchange of information between the police and intelligence services using the appropriate means. With the permission of the judge, of course. But we must do everything we can to prevent attacks on the liberal order. That’s the home secretary’s job. And the chancellor should support them in this.

Do you have an explanation for the fact that more and more Germans are having doubts about the parties, and even about democracy itself?

Schäuble: This is not a specifically German problem. Democracy is also experiencing a crisis in France, Great Britain, Italy and of course the USA.

Because of a planned refugee accommodation, right-wing extremists recently tried to storm a district council building in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Shouldn’t the right fringe of society worry you even more than the left?

Schäuble : I see the danger more in the fact that the serious center is crumbling. It is therefore much more a matter of making this democratic center more resistant to extremist appropriations – left and right. And attacks on democratic institutions must be punished just as severely as those on emergency and rescue services, which are also representatives of our state.

Your party colleague Hans-Georg Maassen is someone who seems to be drifting completely off the democratic spectrum…

Schäuble : I used to appreciate him very much as a highly qualified lawyer. Apparently he’s lost his way now.

So far you have been against his expulsion from the party. How do you see it today?

Schäuble: It would be good if he simply resigned from the CDU in order to spare the party and himself the agonizing process of being expelled. That’s no use to anyone, unless it’s all about provocation. On the other hand, Theodor Heuss advised: “Ignore Ned amol.”

You can look back on 60 years of political career. Were there moments when you took a wrong turn yourself?

Schäuble: There are always decisions that perhaps should have been reconsidered. And there are assessments that were wrong. For example, in the 1970s I didn’t understand that the East-West conflict occupied people so much that they voted for Willy Brandt. We were rather angry that Brandt got the Nobel Peace Prize. Totally wrong from today’s perspective. I really underestimated the mood of the people.

And how do you assess this mood today?

Schäuble: In times like these, the population expects leadership. Friedrich Merz does this very well in his role as leader of the opposition. It’s not always about deals, but also about a clear edge.

Merz is the only member of the Bundestag that you still use the first-name form, isn’t he?

Schäuble : That’s right, he’s the last one. Many others have meanwhile left the political business in one way or another.

As does Ms. Merkel. Why did you never use the first name of the chancellor?

Schäuble : There is no specific reason. The quality of our relationship was very good for a long time. In the end it got a bit more difficult, which had special reasons, but we always had great respect for each other – and I was always loyal to her.

Did the “special causes” include Merkel’s decisions during the 2015 refugee crisis?

Schäuble : No, I thought your decision to let the people from Budapest travel to Germany was absolutely the right one. However, this did not prevent the message from going out into the world: All who are in need – come to Germany! So far, so well known.

What fueled the alienation?

Schäuble: The alienation wasn’t that bad. There wasn’t one reason.

an example please?

Schäuble: The toll for foreigners. Mrs. Merkel had said that there would be no such thing with her, and then she was in the coalition agreement. I don’t think Horst Seehofer would have let the coalition fail because of that.

Was she too weak?

Schäuble: Occasionally she gave in too much to her coalition partners. That’s why I advised Volker Kauder, who was then chairman of the parliamentary group – also one of my long-time companions from the days of the Junge Union, whom I also use on an informal basis – to form a stronger counterweight with the parliamentary group.

Did you do that yourself with Helmut Kohl?

Schäuble: Of course. I pointed out when I didn’t find things right. Everyone knew that, and Kohl wanted it that way.

Has there ever been a discussion between you and Angela Merkel?

Schäuble: That’s not necessary at all. We had a close relationship. But every relationship eventually tires. We don’t meet often anymore.


Schäuble : No, of course she is former Chancellor. D., but no longer has an active function, whereas I am still a member of the Bundestag.

And if Angela Merkel invited you for coffee?

Schäuble: Always happy. But that won’t happen. She only takes appointments that feel good. I’ve always had a basic sympathy for her. Maybe more me for her than she for me. I can understand. She’s the nicer person.