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“Our power option is very real”

The debate about the admission of former AfD politician Jörn Kruse to the CDU, a controversial citizenship meeting, a federal party conference and then a state committee meeting - the appointment calendar of CDU parliamentary group leader Dennis Thering has rarely been full in the past few days.

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“Our power option is very real”

The debate about the admission of former AfD politician Jörn Kruse to the CDU, a controversial citizenship meeting, a federal party conference and then a state committee meeting - the appointment calendar of CDU parliamentary group leader Dennis Thering has rarely been full in the past few days.

But that suits him just fine, as he wants to go more into attack mode in his role as leader of the opposition. In two and a half years, the 38-year-old will probably challenge Mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) as his party's top candidate. "I'm passionate about this task," he says during a visit to the WELT AM SONNTAG editorial team. Even if he knows that this path will not be easy with a starting position of 11.2 percent, which the CDU only achieved in the 2020 general election.

WELT AM SONNTAG: In the first two years after the election, you seemed almost withdrawn as the leader of the largest opposition party, but for some time you have been much more aggressive. Are you trying different roles?

Dennis Thering: I became group leader in the middle of the pandemic. It was clear to me from day one that this was a crisis that we hadn't had before. And here it is important that everyone join hands, including those with political responsibility. Hanseatics stick together. But now we see that the crisis has masked many other problems. It's not going well. As the leader of the opposition, I make that clear. We also want to show what the city will get when the Union is back in government in 2025.

WELT AM SONNTAG: You often speak very loudly in the citizenship. Because there was criticism of your appearance from your own ranks beforehand?

Thering: Of course there were also people in the city who said you were too quiet, you had to be louder. Other people just don't like that. But that's not my concern now, it's about showing the wrong policies of the SPD and the Greens and about asking the Senate about the content.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Your parliamentary colleague Richard Seelmaecker goes one step further and calls for the resignation of Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher (both SPD) because of possible involvement in the Cum-Ex tax proceedings. You didn't go there.

Thering: A lot of things went very wrong at Cum-Ex. That was the biggest tax robbery, the biggest tax scandal in German post-war history. And there is increasing evidence that both Olaf Scholz and Peter Tschentscher exerted political influence at the expense of taxpayers.

Although both want to make us believe the opposite over and over again. They shine through non-enlightenment by telling us that they can't remember anything anymore. So this is a very delicate situation, both for the mayor and for the chancellor. I expect that they will now finally shed their attitude of denial and enlighten. If they don't do that, we will automatically come to the point where the question arises as to whether both are still acceptable in their office.

WELT AM SONNTAG: But at this point in time you are not asking for his resignation.

Thering: I hope that the mayor will still get his act together, be honest and not keep trying to cover up and deceive. If he continues to do that and then finds out that he is more deeply involved in the matter, which many indications suggest, then Peter Tschentscher will hardly be able to stay in office.

WELT AM SONNTAG: You are missing the "Smoking Gun", the actual proof.

Thering: But we can see that the evidence is overwhelming. We also now know that there have been active deletions of emails affecting Cum-Ex. Perhaps that was the clear evidence that was destroyed there. We see that calendar entries have been fudged to cover tracks. But we also see that there were more than 200,000 euros in Johannes Kahrs' safe deposit box, that there were party donations to the SPD, which obviously took place in direct temporal connection with the non-refund of the tax money.

And we see that many inconsistencies are still there. Peter Tschentscher actively influenced the process by forwarding the letter from the Warburg bankers to the tax department. This now needs to be clarified further.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Is it your goal to keep the topic simmering by expanding the investigation mandate to include the involvement of HSH Nordbank until the next general election?

Tering: No. The goal is to get clarity as quickly as possible. And if we know crystal clear next week how that happened and we can make sure that something like this doesn't happen again, that's fine with me. But I'm afraid - because the involvement is so extreme, HSH Nordbank is a large complex and the SPD's willingness to clarify is so limited - that the PUA will keep us busy.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Do you see Tschentscher as having the same level of responsibility as Mayor Scholz at the time?

Thering: There are many indications that Peter Tschentscher, as Senator for Finance at the time, is even more involved in the whole cum-ex scandal than Olaf Scholz and was even more of a driving force behind the transaction.

WELT AM SONNTAG: First of all, that's just an assertion.

Thering: But the evidence shows that he instructed the tax office to continue to be kept closely up to date. That alone has a direct impact on the responsible employees. And other indications that we have indicate that Mr. Tschentscher was even more involved in the process than Olaf Scholz. The evidence is so incriminating and so clear that, in my view, there is no doubt that there was political influence here.

WELT AM SONNTAG: You recently accused Tschentscher of leadership failure in dealing with the energy crisis and insisted on restarting the Moorburg power plant. Doesn't it bother you that the operator, Vattenfall, thinks this is impossible?

Thering: The CDU had already recognized in the spring, when the Russian war of aggression began, that we were heading for an energy crisis, and that is why we submitted an application from the state parliament in April, demanding that Moorburg be restarted. So more than five months ago. Since then, the dismantling has continued.

If red-green had been honest about the matter earlier, something else would have been possible. But the mayor never takes things proactively, preferring to wait and see. Out of sheer ideology, the urgently needed energy from one of the cleanest and most efficient coal-fired power plants in Europe is being dispensed with. To this day I still lack a coherent concept of how Tschentscher wants to lead Hamburg well through this crisis.

He suggests building wind turbines in nature reserves, while Hamburg has an alarmingly low rate of expanding solar energy on city roofs. Of just over 1,100 public buildings, only around 30 are equipped with photovoltaic systems. A go-getter like Helmut Schmidt would be better for our city than a procrastinator and loser like Peter Tschentscher.

WELT AM SONNTAG: If you were mayor tomorrow, would you go back to the Moorburg coal-fired power plant?

Thering: It is a notable incident that the non-partisan Economics Senator Michael Westhagemann opposed the mayor in your newspaper and said that Moorburg could continue to operate. If there is the possibility - maybe with another operator - to start Moorburg up again, then we have to do it. That won't be possible overnight, but the task now is to find solutions to the rising energy prices. This primarily includes ramping up the supply side of energy. Incidentally, the problem will not only accompany us this winter.

WELT AM SONNTAG: In two years, Hamburg will be back in campaign mode for the general election in February 2025. The CDU wants to present a new basic program this year and recently emphasized that it can only be successful as a team. But now the party is debating the entry of former AfD chairman Jörn Kruse, which party leader Christoph Ploß made possible in the north district without consulting the state executive. You said you didn't take him in. Are we seeing the first cracks in the Ploß/Thering team?

Thering: The roles of Christoph Ploß in Berlin and mine in Hamburg are divided well and clearly, there are no gaps, it works extremely well. At the joint suggestion of Christoph Ploß and myself, we have now established a clear and unanimous regulation for applications for admission from former AfD members in the state executive committee. So now there is clarity for everyone.

WELT AM SONNTAG: It became apparent that there are at least two camps in the Hamburg CDU. Perhaps Ploß isn't that firmly in the saddle after all, is it?

Thering: The CDU is a people's party that brings together different tendencies. We discuss and debate, the inner-party democracy is strong. In the end, however, we all stand up for our ideas, convictions and concepts together.

WELT AM SONNTAG: You are supposed to be the CDU's top candidate in the election campaign. Wouldn't Ploß be the better candidate? He's much better known in town.

Thering: As the leader of the opposition, you are the mayor's daily adversary and therefore also the natural top candidate. In the end, the party will decide. In any case, I am passionate about this task.

WELT AM SONNTAG: At its federal party conference, the CDU has now decided by a large majority to introduce a women's quota, one third of all posts and mandates are to be filled by women. Why was the Hamburg state party, which has long had a problem with women's participation, opposed it to the end?

Thering: The Hamburg CDU also had different positions on this at the federal party conference. I have made no secret of the fact that I take a critical view of quotas for fundamental reasons. But it is of course true that the greater involvement of women in the Hamburg CDU is very important to us, and we will continue to work hard on that.

WELT AM SONNTAG: How will you approach the topic in practice now? In the future, will you advertise more specifically for the commitment of women in order to be able to meet the quota at all?

Thering: We will continue to motivate women to actively work in the CDU Hamburg and support every commitment. It will be a joint task to implement the quota in Hamburg.

WELT AM SONNTAG: The Hamburg CDU application for a "gender" ban in state contexts was accepted. Is that a winning theme?

Thering: In private, everyone should be able to speak as they wish. However, it is important to us that no incorrect gender language is used or even taught in state contexts. There was broad support for this from all over Germany. Many people are annoyed by this language police and supposed political correctness.

WELT AM SONNTAG: The recent state elections have shown that there is only a good chance of being elected if a party can offer a power option. How can the CDU succeed with 11.2 percent in the 2020 election?

Thering: Our power option is very real. We have seen that politics is ever more fast-paced. Anyone who would have told us half a year before the election that Olaf Scholz would become the new Federal Chancellor would probably have been declared crazy. We see that many things are amiss in Hamburg, that dissatisfaction among the population is growing. This is an opportunity for us as the CDU. And if we manage to set the right topics, to be in close contact with the people, then there is a clear option for the CDU to participate in government again.

We can also see that the FDP in Hamburg has already said goodbye to the race for 2025. A party that is so divided, so destructive, will not be elected in 2025. Then I could well imagine that the AfD will – hopefully – be left out this time. Then you have a four-party parliament with a stronger CDU and multiple coalition options.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Finally, let's take a look at Corona. What do you expect from the Senate and what will the role of the CDU be this time?

Thering: Today we have more knowledge about the virus and can better assess what went well in the past and what didn't go well. What we can no longer afford in the future, we as a Union are very clear, is another lockdown. School closures are completely out of the question for us. In the catering and hotel industry, too, we see no scope to completely scale back everything. I am assuming that the corona situation will not worsen as much as it did when we had little or no vaccine.

I expect the Senate to be very pragmatic here now, to do what is necessary to protect the population, but to remain proportionate. A mask requirement can be a relatively low-threshold means, even if we would prefer to do without it as well. We are learning to live with this virus and let normalcy prevail again. When the Senate declared Hamburg a hotspot last April, although the numbers were comparatively low, the mayor lost acceptance among large parts of the population. Mr. Tschentscher should learn from this.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Would you be in favor of lifting the isolation requirement?

Thering: That depends on the overall situation. We are currently seeing that there is a massive shortage of skilled workers and beds are being blocked in the health sector in particular, so that people can no longer be admitted. I recently had an internship day at Asklepios, where asymptomatic employees who had tested positive more or less by chance had to stay at home. This is no longer in healthy proportion to the problems that arise as a result.

If everything had gone well, Dennis Thering could have opened up a career as a professional soccer player – at any rate, he had already made it into the high-performing youth teams at HSV as a goalkeeper. But injuries slowed him down, so he took a different path: A-levels at the business high school in City Nord, bank apprenticeship at Haspa, political studies with a bachelor's degree. And at the same time, things went up for him in the CDU, first as spokesman for transport policy and since 2020 as parliamentary group leader in the citizenship. Thering, now 38 years old, is married and has a daughter with his wife.

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