You would think that there are worlds between Saskia Esken and Markus Söder. The leader of the CSU party of Franconia with seat in Munich and the left-wing SPD leader of Baden-Württemberg with seat in Berlin. The academic and ex-TV journalist and the former parcel deliverer who had dropped out of German studies – what should we do together?
There’s also a whole night between them at the W Plan Congress: Söder closes the first day of the conference Tuesday evening, Esken opens the second Wednesday. But this is due to the program, because the participants learn: Söder and Esken together on stage, it could have been very harmonious even during the election campaign. You know each other, you talk to each other, and both have hung their enemy images elsewhere.
Markus Söder, for example, with the Left Party. A red-red-green alliance under a chancellor of the SPD Olaf Scholz: for him, it is the worst option, of which he draws hope. The prospect of a left-wing coalition gives many citizens pause, and polls show: “It’s moving slowly,” says Söder. “Step by step, but it’s growing better and better. I think it’s possible that we intercept the SPD in the last few meters.”
Open detailed view
“It’s not about percentages, it’s about space,” says Markus Söder in an interview with SZ editor-in-chief Judith Wittwer.
(Photo: Can Erdal)
Söder naturally locates the trend reversal, if any, in Bavaria, the CSU party congress recently sent a signal of unity and determination. But then there has to be some distance. Of course, only the national trend is to blame for the appallingly poor CSU ballot results in Bavaria, and besides, he recently had a big duel with Greens Robert Habeck, who is also a losing candidate. “Very precise, concrete.” Just by the way. And then Söder lays a big stone in the garden for his candidate for chancellor.
Laschet wants to admit forming a coalition if he crosses the finish line behind Scholz, and bet on the FDP of his friend Christian Lindner. In this reading, he could refuse a Jamaican coalition of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP and thus force the Greens to side with the Union. Nothing there, Söder told the SZ Congress: whoever is in front becomes chancellor. It’s just like this: “It’s not about percentages, it’s about space.” And again: “The gold medal goes to who is first.”
“I never thought I would have the chance to save lives.”
As a result, he observes with interest that “the FDP is clearly doing easing exercises.” Lindner’s list of demands in the past used the keyword tax cuts, but now he mentions a ten-year perspective. “Ten years”, sneers Söder: “I know the five-year plans, but this.” And then the secretary general of the FDP, Volker Wissing, even recently defended Scholz: “As a man of the Union, you would be happy to be defended by your own people”, says Laschet – sorry: says Söder.
Esken, on the other hand, is remarkably tame with the FDP. She also leaves on two terms with Lindner, and because of the image of the enemy: liberal of the market? Company party? Not a word about it. Instead, the belief that the FDP can also snatch a minimum wage of twelve euros if it is supposed to. Are the twelve euros a red line? Answer: “A very central concern of the heart.
Esken has many social demands, qualifying the situation in the low-wage sector, the precarious working conditions and the situation of families as unbearable. But also says: Thanks to the largest economic recovery plan in history with many investments looking to the future, Germany has weathered the crisis well. Söder is still completely in corona mode. In Bavaria alone they saved a million people from Corona, science would have calculated: 130,000 lives were saved and 800,000 people were saved from Longcovid: “I never thought I would be lucky to save lives. “
“We women want half the pie when it comes to paying, especially when it comes to power.”
Söder also sees a “reform backlog”, says Söder, and mentions digitization and climate policy above all, in Bavaria they are – of course – much further. Esken says Germany is expected to become climate neutral by 2045, and: “I’m sure the conversion will be successful if we tackle it together.” For Söder, “preserving our nature is the ultimate challenge”. Can you relieve him of the flirtation with the greens and the embrace of the trees? Söder insists this has been his belief for a long time, but admits that he has occasionally encountered “subdued euphoria” in his own party. And as for the gestures: “I prefer to hug a tree in my arms than concrete pillars.
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“We are not a burden, we are an asset,” says Saskia Esken, leader of the SPD, of the quota of women on the boards of directors of large companies.
(Photo: Johannes Simon)
Even when it comes to equality, Söder and Esken go hand in hand. She complains that women are the losers in the Corona crisis and calls for targeted measures to strengthen families and enable equality. “We women want half the pie when it comes to paying, especially when it comes to power.” Is a quota of directors a burden for companies? “Hello? We are not a burden, we are an asset.” Söder also does not accept the argument that you cannot find a woman in a specific case and reports some “scandalous statements” on this subject: “I sometimes despair”. Esken claims 50 percent women in the next federal cabinet, Söder already has 50 percent women on the state’s list for federal elections. And so on.
Another difference, please? Esken reports on the last meeting with friends, when everyone raves about Scandinavia. Cycle paths in Denmark. But also the modern and fair education system. The model for women in employment. Digital administration. Starter culture. And a strong welfare state that secures people: “We can still learn a lot there. Söder might have said: the next federal government does not need to look to Scandinavia. Even after Bavaria, that’s enough.