Minister, an extreme, exhausting and nerve-wracking year is coming to an end. Unfortunately, the pandemic has not yet. Can you still switch off something over the holidays?
OLAF SCHOLZ: I’m pretty confident about that. Despite all the challenges, I have always managed to find moments where I can relax. You also need it to concentrate at work. My wife and I usually flew somewhere over Christmas, sometimes Christmas under palm trees. This year we’re staying in Hamburg. But we will still try to relax, read books, hike, jog.
Let’s look back: In March, most economists say, Germany reacted like a textbook, quickly and generously. “All weapons on the table” – that was the central quote from you at the time. When did it become clear to you that you had to act like this?
I have been dealing with crisis management for a long time. In 2009, as Federal Minister for Labor and Social Affairs, I had to deal with a very severe economic crisis and at that time I developed the instrument of short-time work, which many countries are now imitating. I am firmly convinced that you have to do business solidly so that you can counteract with full force in a crisis. That is why I was very much in favor of us being the first to launch our stabilization program and the economic stimulus program. And I worked to ensure that we in Europe find a common answer. Our economy is far too intertwined for us to be able to cope with the crisis on our own.
You can listen to the interview with Federal Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz in the podcast “Die Stunden Null” here:
You know the saying “afterwards you are always smarter”. In your opinion, what was the biggest mistake in corona crisis management?
The biggest mistakes were made before the virus was a threat to all of us. For example the neglect of the public health system. It remains a problem that we do not pay the men and women who provide care services enough and do not give them sufficiently secure prospects. What also turned out to be a mistake is that we have not progressed so quickly with digitization. That, too, is something where too long sayings have been made.
Gigantic sums of money had to be decided very quickly. At the same time, you didn’t know what was coming. Was there a moment when you were scared?
I am concerned about the health of citizens. I am not worried about the performance of our economy. I was hoping that our very strong fiscal response helped the economy recover faster than everyone thought. I couldn’t know. It turned out better than previously calculated.
Many entrepreneurs and medium-sized companies still complain that help is on paper, but that it is too bureaucratic and time-consuming, that you fall through the cracks, that the big ones are helped and the small ones not.
I perceive the discussion, that is always justified, it was never really right. The stabilization measures alone when the pandemic broke out were almost exclusively focused on small companies. A lot of experience has flowed into the process of launching Bridging Aid III now. We take a very specific look: How do we manage that the money also reaches the people and that it is also tailored to all individual cases that we can understand. We want to give the economy the security signal that we have the strength to get through this. This is called staying power in the language of the military.
This is reminiscent of ECB boss Mario Draghi, who coined the phrase “Whatever it takes” during the euro crisis. Would you say that too?
Yes. The quote had a major impact on stabilizing the euro. After it fell, there wasn’t that much to do. It is right for the state to communicate that it has the strength and is ready to use it. This makes entrepreneurial investments and entrepreneurial courage possible.