The FOCUS column by Jan Fleischhauer: Scandal instead of solid: There is a deep hurt behind Olaf Scholz’s transformation
Strange change in character at Olaf Scholz: A moment ago the finance minister stood for strict budget discipline, now he spends the money as if there was no tomorrow. Worried question: Was Scholz secretly exchanged?
What happened to Olaf Scholz, our finance minister? He looks like Scholz. He has Scholz’s voice. But he no longer speaks like Scholz.
If there was anyone in the federal cabinet who paid attention to budget discipline, it was the man from Hamburg. In defense of the black zero, he was even prepared to offend his own people, whereupon they did not elect him, but two no-names, as party leaders.
Broken inside during the struggle for party leadership
And now? Now he’s spending the money like there’s no tomorrow. The debt for this year amounts to 218 billion euros, a lonely record. According to initial estimates, another 96 billion will be added next year. There is money for everyone and everything: for the mothers who lack their pensions, for the Lufthansa pilots, for the short-term and less-employed people, who are guaranteed their wages by the state until 2022.
If you ask Scholz whether you could save somewhere, he shrugs his shoulders. Or says: We spend so much that we don’t want to be petty now. Seen in this light, it is only logical that he is now even warming up for a coalition with the people of the Left Party. In the beautiful world of socialism there is always enough money: Either it grows on the trees or it is taken from the rich, whoever falls under this category.
The only way I can explain the change in Scholz’s personality is that his defeat in the struggle for party leadership broke him inside. Sometimes traumatic experiences can have devastating effects on people. They are then simply no longer themselves. Or, another explanation: They secretly exchanged the “Scholzomat” – as in the famous horror film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, where the residents of a small town are replaced by outwardly identical doppelgangers.
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Boring people are conscientious
That would also explain why the party leaders Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans could so easily agree on Scholz as candidate for chancellor. The voters should gain confidence in the SPD. You should say: This is our old Olaf Scholz, he’ll take care that no nonsense happens. And then, bang, the election is over, and it turns out that Scholz is no longer the Scholz they knew.
I like Scholz. We both come from Hamburg, that connects. The Hanseatic origins also explain why he often seems so inhibited. When the strict Corona rules were relaxed, a sigh of relief went through Hamburg: finally back to the usual five meters!
I also have nothing against people who are boring. Boring people are conscientious. If everyone in the government were like Andi Scheuer, it would be a mess. I like scouring too. But there can only be one of his kind in each round.
Just don’t get involved in a conversation
With Scholz, however, you shouldn’t make the mistake of letting him get you involved in a conversation. 15 minutes can quickly stretch to three hours. I speak from experience. At a political summer party in Berlin last year, I was careless enough to let myself be drawn into a conversation about the eventful history of the Hamburg-Wandsbek local association. I didn’t think that one could lose more than two sentences about the historical development of Wandsbek. I was wrong as I discovered.
This was followed by the history of the Hamburg-Harburg branch and the Bargteheide branch. My advice: If you ever meet Olaf Scholz at a party, act as if you urgently need to greet someone else.
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But who knows, maybe we’ve always been wrong about him. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” recently did a long research into how Scholz, as mayor in Hamburg, exempted the Warburg Bank from a tax liability of 47 million euros. I have to formulate it differently: Scholz met several times with the head of the Warburg Bank, who presented his tax concerns to him, whereupon the tax office forgot the tax liability.
Mysterious behavior in the Wirecard scandal
He can no longer remember the content of the talks, says Scholz, but he had no influence on the tax office. Admittedly, it sounds a bit adventurous. Therefore, a committee of inquiry is now to deal with the matter.
His behavior in the Wirecard scandal is even more puzzling. A finance minister has a lot to do, you can’t take care of everything, I understand that. However, if, as a minister, I read in the newspaper that a DAX company, whose financial branch is monitored by my people, has gotten involved in strange transactions, then I would be asked what is going on. It wasn’t just any cheese that reported irregularities in Wirecard’s Asian business at the beginning of 2019, but rather the “Financial Times”, the world’s most respected financial newspaper.
The finance minister guarantees
What did you do instead at BaFin, the financial supervisory authority under the Ministry of Finance? The editor of the “Financial Times” sued on suspicion of insider trading. He wanted to send the share price downhill in order to enrich himself. Well, we know how it turned out. Not in favor of BaFin.
If you now think that this has certainly had consequences for personnel, I have to disappoint you. There is no question that anyone who heads an authority that does not notice that 1.9 billion euros only existed in Philippine fancy accounts is probably not the right man to ensure the security of the financial center Germany. That’s how I see it, but that’s not how you see it in the world in which Olaf Scholz lives. The job for Felix Hufeld, the head of BaFin, is secure. The Finance Minister vouches for this personally, no matter what.
For example that. The Green MP Danyal Bayaz made a small question to the Ministry of Finance about what the BaFin employees did with the shares. Result: The 94 employees who are responsible for tracking insider trading and market manipulation have not traded as much with any share as that of – yes, exactly – Wirecard until the crash.
When the casino supervisor sits down at the roulette table
It’s a bit like the supervisors in the casino sitting down at the roulette table after their work and having the croupiers who supervised them distribute them during the day. A strange work approach, I would say. An initial statement from the Federal Ministry of Finance said that the rules had been checked and found to be strict and appropriate.
If there is a country that loves reliability and correctness, it is Germany, I always thought. But that’s how it is when you hear all day that you are too traditional and too old and too ossified. Then at some point you say to yourself: We have to dare to do something! Why not bring a company into the Dax that is completely different. Young and dazzling and digital, to stir up this dusty club of large corporations.
It doesn’t get much younger and more dazzling
They were not old and dusty at Wirecard. A company that grew up with the payment processing of the gambling and porn industry – it doesn’t get much younger and more glamorous. In contrast, every brothel owner is a very serious entrepreneur. With him you at least know what he does for a living.
When I think about it, I would like to have old Olaf Scholz back. So the pre-Warburg, pre-Wirecard, pre-mega-debt Scholz. But maybe I just imagined it, maybe it never was. However, that would be an even bigger disappointment than the Wirecard scandal.
About the author
Readers love or hate him, Jan Fleischhauer is not indifferent to most of them. You just have to look at the comments on his columns to get an idea of how much what he writes moves people. He was with SPIEGEL for 30 years, and at the beginning of August 2019 he switched to FOCUS as a columnist.
Fleischhauer himself sees it as his job to give voice to a worldview that he believes is underrepresented in the German media. So in case of doubt against herd instinct, platitudes and thought patterns. His lyrics are always enjoyable – perhaps it is this fact that provokes his opponents the most.
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