WORLD: Mr. Birkner, if things happen in Lower Saxony as they did in the two most recent state elections, your party could even fail at the 5 percent hurdle on October 9th. What would such an election result mean for the FDP as a whole?
Stefan Birkner: In my view, there is no evidence for such a scenario. In this respect, we are not concerned with what that would mean for anyone. It does not matter.
WORLD: The fact is that the FDP result was well below the pre-election polls in both NRW and Schleswig-Holstein. Six percent, the current figure for the Lower Saxony FDP, is a thin board. How do you avoid breaking it?
Birkner: Our survey values are between six and eight percent. Our goals are: double digits plus government participation. The state election campaign is only just beginning. So far, all surveys have been dominated by the nationwide mood. That will change in the coming weeks. As the election approaches, state politics will take center stage, including the poor performance of the grand coalition here in Hanover. Unlike in North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, we are not a junior partner in Lower Saxony, but an opposition party - and that is definitely a better starting point.
WORLD: It would at least be helpful for you if the federal FDP gave you some tailwind. What do you expect from your Berlin party friends in the next five weeks?
Birkner: The common task in the traffic light coalition will be to work out our specific role in this not exactly uncomplicated government alliance. And I think the FDP has done pretty well over the past few weeks.
WORLD: In which places?
Birkner: For example on the subject of cold progression. We prevent the working middle of society from being even more heavily burdened in this crisis, that there is no hidden tax increase. This is an important signal, also for the Lower Saxony election campaign. The same applies to the energy policy debate. The FDP is the force in the federal government that pointed out early on that we also have an electricity problem. And that the continued operation of the remaining nuclear power plants is therefore absolutely necessary for the benefit of the people.
WORLD: Are you in favor of leaving all three nuclear power plants, including the one in Lingen in Lower Saxony, connected to the grid beyond the end of the year?
Birkner: Definitely. And over a longer period of time. The stretching alone, which is currently the subject of much debate in Berlin, is definitely not enough. We have an electricity price crisis and we have a climate crisis. If we replaced the electricity from the three nuclear power plants with electricity from coal, we would produce an additional 20 million tons of CO₂. Therefore, in my view, it is incomprehensible to only send the nuclear power plants into stretching mode. We now finally have to order additional fuel elements in order to be prepared for the continued operation of our three remaining plants.
WORLD: Starting this Monday, the parliamentary groups will also be advising on the third relief package decided by the coalition at the weekend – what must absolutely be left in it?
Birkner: Compensation for cold progression, one-off payments, but only for pensioners and students who have not benefited from the energy price flat rate. And we need an answer to the dramatic increases in energy prices. Both a price cap for basic needs and a change in market design can make sense. It is important that we set up a reasonable model that is clear about the consequences. And not to repeat the mistakes of the gas levy, with which Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck just didn't know what he would do with it. Something like this mustn't happen again.
The traffic light coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP has agreed on further financial relief for people in Germany. The federal government wants to cushion the energy crisis with more than 65 billion euros. Follow the statement by the Federal Chancellor and his coalition partners here.
WORLD: At which points in the relief package should something be corrected during the deliberations in the Bundestag?
Birkner: The package is a real success. The debt brake is being adhered to, cold progression is being fought, there are no tax increases and nevertheless relief is being provided on the electricity market. The challenge certainly lies in the implementation. Robert Habeck must now implement the resolutions very quickly and with legal certainty. I find it unacceptable that, even after the summit, the SPD and the Greens have not even made a commitment to continue operating the three nuclear power plants that are still in production beyond the end of the year.
WORLD: Another topic that will concern people again this autumn and winter – the corona pandemic. How do you like the new Corona rules of the traffic light coalition?
Birkner: I think the compromise is pretty balanced. The corona policy has changed fundamentally with the entry of the FDP into the federal government. No lockdowns, no school closures, no university closures. It is also no longer ruled into the private sphere, as Stephan Weil, for example, has done time and again here in Lower Saxony. No state government can now limit the number of friends you can meet with.
WORLD: How do you see the subject of mask requirements?
Birkner: In any case, I still see a considerable need for discussion in air transport and also in trains. Especially after the pictures of the Chancellor's and Vice-Chancellor's trip to Canada.
WORLD: Would you promise your voters in Lower Saxony that a state government in which the FDP would be involved would definitely waive mask and test requirements?
Birkner: No one can seriously promise that. The criterion for these measures is the protection of the health system. If an overload situation threatens again there, masks and, if necessary, tests are the only means left for the countries to counteract an escalation. What I can promise is that we will apply very strict standards for this and that we will not take nationwide measures, but will react regionally if necessary.
WORLD: There are experts who assume that the health system will be overwhelmed under the current conditions of the pandemic, if at all, because of the quarantine rules that continue to apply. Do these rules have to go?
Birkner: In the current situation, the quarantine rules make no sense. In the future, people should decide for themselves when to stay at home and when not.
WORLD: Last question: When was the last time you debated politics with your brother-in-law, the Green Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck?
Birkner: I won't tell you.
"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.