In an interview, FDP MP Lukas Köhler talks about the legacy of Freiburg theses from 1971, liberal promises of promotion and why the speed limit is only a symbolic policy.
This month, the FDP is also celebrating its 50th anniversary in Freiburg. Party program adopted during the social-liberal coalition under Willy Brandt. The Freiburg theses are considered to be the most important project for the future of German liberalism since 1945. They concern democracy, social responsibility and the third way between socialism and capitalism. The relevance and innovation of Freiburg’s theses is also discussed in today’s FDP under the slogan “Dare More Freiburg” – especially as a coalition with the SPD is looming. Interview with Bavarian FDP politician Lukas Köhler on the importance of the party’s program from the 1970s for the future legislature.
Mr. Köhler, how did the Freiburg theses arise? Why, of all people, did the economically liberal party want to tame capitalism?
From a liberal’s perspective, capitalism is always a question of the role of the markets. Markets are tools to negotiate shortages as effectively as possible. On the one hand, they ensure that goods are produced as efficiently and cheaply as possible, and on the other hand, people end up in the world of work. However, markets also need rules and framework conditions. This is the tension between laissez-faire capitalism without rules and socialism that wants to regulate everything. In our opinion, the state must be strong and lean. Strong rules – but not too much.
Your party leader Christian Lindner spoke of “unleashing the economy” during the election campaign. This does not sound like strong rules for the capitalist market.
But we suffer from a growing number of bureaucratic obstacles and regulations. The economy should be freed from this excess, said Christian Lindner. The existing corset means that we cannot make necessary changes quickly enough, for example in climate policy.
Her colleague Ria Schröder, who sits on the federal board of the FDP, apparently sees things differently. He cautions: “Prescient obedience to the economy obscures the clear picture.” What would be a clear view of the economy by the FDP?
This economic policy always means setting clear framework conditions. And that the goals we set for ourselves as politicians and society must also be realized. This requires political courage and honesty.
The Freiburg theses define social liberalism as a close relationship between freedom and equality. If today’s FDP were to reflect more on its heritage, it should have few problems in coalition negotiations with the SPD.
I would argue that we do not remember our heritage …
Social liberalism? What role does it play in today’s FDP?
Last year, the motto of our Epiphany meeting was “Social Awakening.” It was about renewing the promise of social advancement. Then comes our educational goal – what could be more social than the best education in the world? So far, we have not succeeded in creating an education system in Germany in which the educational biography of the parents hardly plays a role for the children. This is a real scandal.
Of course it’s a scandal …
That is why we combine a very good economic policy program with an equally ambitious social policy …
And the term “equality” does not make you rash?
The Freiburg theses formulate equality primarily as equal opportunities. This is the position we have expressed in all party programs over the past few years. Equality does not mean doing the same. Of course, it is about equality before the law and equal access to educational opportunities. But equality in the sense that everyone must have or deserve the same – no, we reject it.
What about social justice then? It is no coincidence that the authors of the Freiburg theses spoke of the “own bourgeois stupor” of the FDP. This is still the case today.
Sure, we’re in a lot of numbness …
… but it’s about your party …
Justice comes when you can shape your life according to your own ideas and be given the conditions to do so. In our opinion, redistribution has nothing to do with justice.
So are the tax increases for the higher earners, what the FDP flatly rejects?
To the person
Łukasz Koehler was born in Munich in 1986. He developed an early interest in politics and since 2011 he has been involved in various positions as a member of the Free Democrats (FDP) and Young Liberals.
In Bavaria Köhler was the state chairman of the Young Liberals from 2014 to 2017. And since 2019, he has been a member of the federal board of directors and secretary general of FDP Bavaria.
During studying Köhler studied philosophy in Munich, Manila in the Philippines and at the University of London. In 2015 he defended his doctoral dissertation on “On the representation of silent parties in democratic countries”. During his studies, he worked at the Institute of Social Policy, and as a co-founder he took over the management of the Center for Ecological Ethics and Ecological Education in 2015.
In the Bundestag Köhler has been the climate policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group since 2017. He is the chairman of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety Committee and a full member of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development. FR
Of course not. Our understanding of justice is not about taking anything from people. It is about what we as a welfare state should, want and can finance to create a balance. And when it comes to income inequality – according to the Gini coefficient, which is measured by this index, we are at the same level as the Scandinavian countries. They are often used when it comes to social justice.
The Scandinavian countries have around 27 points on the Gini index, while Germany in 2020 has around 34 points. So inequality is bigger here, and has increased drastically since 2019.
I am not saying that everything is fine, otherwise I would not be involved in politics. Of course, the problem is the social division. But my goal is not to take money from the rich because I don’t think that will fix the injustice. It is about getting people on low incomes promoted and earning more. This is the job of politics.
The theses from Freiburg already had the environment in mind. She says: “One of the necessary human rights is the right to the environment at its best.”
I am now 35 years old and have been in the Bundestag for four years. I don’t know if the party did everything right before. As an FDP, we took compulsory political educational leave in 2013, but previously we participated in many decisions regarding environmental policy …
… for example when decommissioning nuclear energy …
… But where Merkel said “Basta”. What did the FDP understand when Lindner rejected Fridays for Future and mocked everyone who acted ecologically under the slogan “Bullerbü Cargo Bike”?
To start politically, I cannot start with my subjective ideas about the world. This is what the Bullerbü phrase means. Romance and aesthetics are an extremely important part of cultural life, also to convey what climate change means. But it is about the political, economic and scientific framework on which we must act. If we fail to combine ecology with economy, we will not be protecting the climate. That is why we as the FDP have a climate program that provides a hard framework for the markets but, on the other hand, leaves market participants to distribute the shortages.
In any case, the speed limit is not one of the supposedly difficult announcements. The cap would bring a lot if it could be introduced immediately – and yet the FDP is against it.
From our point of view, 130 km / h is rather symbolic, and in the present situation it is too late for a symbolic policy. We have to spend every euro efficiently.
Earlier you referred to science. But when it comes to applying speed limits, don’t you care about scientific discoveries?
Even if we can save two million tons of CO2 – what about the economic burden? Every regulatory measure comes with costs, be it fleet restrictions, speed limits or flight bans. And these costs are not transparent. More important than the speed limit are the high prices of CO2 emissions and that we rethink taxes and subsidies in the energy sector and control them in a socially fair manner. For example, an electricity tax applies equally to all electricity, whether it comes from renewable sources, hydrogen or coal. This is the wrong approach if the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Energy costs make up an incredibly large proportion, especially for small and medium-sized incomes. That is why they are socially unjust.
At ARD Tagesthemen, the student said he was a fan of FDP because he didn’t want to be restricted by the speed limit while driving. Don’t you find it embarrassing for your party?
I don’t find voters embarrassing. There are a million reasons to believe that FDP is great. And if this is one of them, then I will not question the opinion of the young man. As a politician, it is not for me to judge this statement.
You spoke earlier about equal opportunities that you must be able to develop your own skills. So why is the FDP opposed to quotas for women?
The quota is contrary to our idea of empowering the individual in relation to society. In addition, we have a number of members in the party who are not fans of quotas.
Unlike a prominent FDP woman such as Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. The former federal minister of justice has turned from an opponent of quotas to a staunch supporter of quotas.
Mrs. Leutheuser-Schnarrenberger is great. We always have exciting discussions on this in the party, even if there is an anti-quota resolution. In the equal rights debate, it has always been important to us that the individual’s opportunities are prioritized. We do not want to achieve this through quota regulations.
Looking at the Freiburg theses – what do you wish for in the future at your party?
That he bravely asks himself how we can revive a program as progressive as the Freiburg theses. And how can we improve the social market economy on which the theses are based.
Interview: Bascha Mika