WORLD: Mr. Haseloff, Saxony-Anhalt is an energy-intensive state with its chemical industry and mechanical engineering. How do you feel about the coming months?
Reiner Haseloff: I've been involved in building the country for three decades now and can't remember a situation that was even remotely as serious. It has to be said clearly: In this crisis, the successes that we have worked so hard to achieve in the reconstruction of the East are at stake.
WORLD: Are there companies that have already shut down or even stopped production due to rising energy prices?
Haseloff: Yes, several even. Some also run production at 20 percent to keep the systems operational. For others, production has come to a complete standstill. Our problem isn't primarily that we need gas for energy supply. We have coal-fired power plants and wind and solar systems for this. We need natural gas for recycling. This particularly affects the basic chemical industry and has consequences for fertilizer producers, plastics manufacturers and many others.
There is a highly complex, industrial exploitation of natural gas in Saxony-Anhalt, which is currently at a standstill because the production costs have multiplied and the companies can no longer work profitably, but are making high losses. Due to the high Uniper surcharges, the production costs also increase extremely. We have the largest fertilizer producer in the republic in Piesteritz, and they too have shut down their plants.
WORLD: With what consequences?
Haseloff: With the result that fertilizers from Iran, Oman and Russia are now coming onto the market. Fertilizers are not affected by sanctions because of their importance for global food security. So Putin paralyzes our fertilizer industry and at the same time earns money from the increased prices. It doesn't get any more absurd than that.
WORLD: So your problem is not so much the lack of gas, but high gas prices?
Haseloff: That's right. If the price level does not change, companies will close here and move to where production can be done more cheaply. That is why the federal government must quickly come up with priority lists of which companies and industries we want to support and keep here for strategic reasons. It would make sense to produce fertilizers and AdBlue, a substance that is indispensable in every modern diesel vehicle, in our own country and not import them from abroad. We're making ourselves dependent on authoritarian countries where human rights don't count for much.
WORLD: Do you think the federal government is making the right political decisions?
Haseloff: We are in a dilemma. We cannot and should not deviate from the sanctions decided by the EU. However, these only really work in the medium or long term and have little influence on the current course of the war. The war rages on, and there is no sign of a negotiated solution.
WORLD: There are calls to open Nord Stream 2. Would that defuse the situation?
Haseloff: Putin is using the throttling of the gas supply to politically destabilize the EU and, above all, Germany. Opening Nord Stream 2 would not change that. I think this is a bogus debate.
WORLD: Your Saxon counterpart Michael Kretschmer (CDU) says that the republic will not survive years of shortages, neither socially nor politically. He urges a negotiated peace. How do you see it?
Haseloff: I'm skeptical about that. I don't believe in raising false hopes. Putin shows no sign of being able to compromise. Only he can end this illegal war. He's not ready for that. And Ukraine wants to drive the aggressors out of the country. It is to be expected that this war will last even longer.
Where I agree with my counterpart Kretschmer: The consequences for our society, for our entire economy, are enormous. A long war presents us with huge challenges not only in Germany but throughout Europe. Ultimately, this leads to permanent social stress, which populists and extremists try to exploit for themselves.
WORLD: The specter of a "rage winter" is already being painted on the wall. What kind of protests do you expect?
Haseloff: There's a horseshoe closing in from the far right and far left. The left runs the risk of making common cause with the right, because both want to attack the federal government at so-called Monday demos. It reminds me of the worst moments of the Weimar Republic, when the KPD and NSDAP made common cause.
WORLD: Thuringian Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow has asked his party, Die Linke, to comply with distance rules to the right. Don't you believe him?
Haseloff: I believe him personally. But he's pretty much alone in his party. I don't question the right to freedom of demonstration, that's why I took to the streets at the Monday demonstrations during the reunification period. By the way, I could understand demonstrations in front of the Russian embassy. That's where the representatives of those who are responsible for this war and this crisis sit. I would never have thought that a campaign of left and right extremists, shoulder to shoulder, would be possible.
It is undisputed in the political center, whether in the traffic light or the opposition Union faction, that we have to compensate for social hardship with relief packages. The question now is whether we are a fair-weather democracy or whether large parts of the population stick together even in difficult times. And whether politics can keep the population together.
WORLD: Two years ago, many politicians and commentators attacked you because they prevented the increase in the fee for public broadcasting (ÖRR), at least temporarily. After the revelations about the luxury in the executive floor of the RBB, do you feel that your criticism was subsequently confirmed?
Haseloff: I see that with a certain bitterness. I got a lot of banging around the ears back then. I want to abolish the ÖRR or influence the program, curtail freedom of expression and freedom of the press. That was all nonsense. I was concerned with reforms that ensure the acceptance of public broadcasting by the general public. Public service broadcasting has been living beyond its means for a long time and has repeatedly ignored reform proposals and advice from the Commission for Determining the Financial Needs of Broadcasters (KEF).
The Schlesinger affair is a damage that can only be repaired with difficulty. Acceptance is badly damaged. For those who really want to abolish the ÖRR, this is all a steep template.
WORLD: Is the ÖRR able to reform itself?
Haseloff: The self-control at RBB obviously didn't work. I can only hope that those responsible in the broadcasters are slowly realizing the seriousness of the situation. A pressure to act has built up that should finally be taken into account.
WORLD: In France and Great Britain, the fees have been and will be abolished. Would you like that for Germany too?
Haseloff: In both countries, however, broadcasting is now financed by taxes. This is not legally possible for us. Public law is particularly protected by the Basic Law and the case law of the Federal Constitutional Court. But that is not a license for self-service, luxury and opulent salaries in the executive floors. I think it is imperative that the salaries of artistic directors and program directors are adjusted to what is normal for the public sector. Saxony-Anhalt had long ago proposed that this should be based on the salary of the President and the judges at the Federal Constitutional Court.
WORLD: That would be a significant reduction in salaries.
Haseloff: Yes. But it is incomprehensible that the director of a state institute gets more money in his account than the federal chancellor. A system has completely decoupled itself from social reality and ignored all warnings.
"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.