The corona pandemic has plunged the global economy and societies into a deep crisis – with hundreds of thousands of deaths and many millions of unemployed. Will we soon be over the worst, at least in Germany?
MARCEL FRATZSCHER: We don’t know. I fear that many are in a kind of exaggerated euphoria right now. They are fed up with restrictions and social distancing and not being able to meet relatives and acquaintances. The honest answer is: we don’t know what the next year will bring for us. And we have to be prepared for the fact that things can get worse again.
Nevertheless, you are optimistic about the future and are of the opinion that after the crisis a new age of the Enlightenment can begin in Germany. What makes you so optimistic?
What matters is: what will we learn from this crisis? How will we look back on this crisis 20 years from now and say: That has changed in our world because of the crisis – and that has not changed? In many ways, this crisis is a wake-up call for all of us to realize what is important to us.
And will that happen?
I hope so. One important lesson we can learn from this crisis is the importance of solidarity. One of the positive aspects, especially in Germany, is that we can see how important it is to stand together in difficult times. 90 percent of Germans say that they accept restrictions if they use them to protect other people – especially weaker people, older people and people with previous illnesses. We see that countries with a high level of solidarity come through the crisis better than others. I would like us to recognize how important it is in a crisis to have a strong welfare state and strong state institutions. This is what sets us apart from other countries. We have an excellent health system that everyone can access. It’s not like the United States, where millions of people are not entitled to such care. We have a state that can help many people quickly and unbureaucratically through short-time work benefits or child bonuses.
You spoke of a wake-up call and write in your book that the crisis primarily brought about the good in people – such as empathy, solidarity, willingness to help. But if you look around here in Berlin, you will not only experience protests against the Corona measures, but also a lot of egoism and ruthlessness. Should the pandemic worsen: Isn’t it at least as likely that it will be called “all against all” in the future?
No. I am firmly convinced of that. A very important lesson not only from this crisis, but also from numerous disasters and crises in the past, is that societies based on solidarity get through such crises better than countries that have put precisely this personal egoism in the foreground. Of course, there are also different opinions in Germany. We are a democracy and that is a good thing. The vast majority of Germans say: Now we have to stand together and put our individual interests aside. That was really impressive over the past six months. If the crisis gets worse or if it lasts for another year, it can get even worse for many people. But that does not mean that this essential insight will disappear: Solidarity and a sense of community will help us to survive this pandemic.
The core of the Enlightenment are concepts such as rationality, humanism, and freedom. A look at the USA shows that these foundations of democracy are shaky. Can’t that also happen in Europe?
We have already seen some of this development in Europe. Populism and a turn to nationalism are not unique to the USA. But it is very positive that these have become weaker in Europe and play a lesser role. There is no talk of exclusion in the crisis. Politics is also moving closer together.