Campaigning is like taking a trip on the ghost train. You don’t know which ghost pops up around the next bend with how much noise and hoot. You also don’t know how many ghosts await a candidate. However, we know that the candidates’ journey is being watched by an audience of millions, and we know how long the journey will take: it will take another two weeks, until September 26th. The CDU chancellor candidate Armin Laschet has left many ghosts behind; some looked like Markus Söder, others like himself. Laschet was not noticeably impressed by this, the polls are more shocked than him. At the CSU party conference in Nuremberg, Laschet appeared fearless, confident and animating.
Suspicion at the wrong time
Now the ghosts are pounding on the SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz. His ghosts are prosecutors from Osnabrück. You have just searched the Treasury Department he runs. You investigate against the money laundering central office of the customs on suspicion of thwarting punishment in the office. The central office is called the “Financial Intelligence Unit” (FIU). She is said to have not passed on numerous reports from banks and notaries about money laundering to the police and the judiciary. What does that have to do with Scholz? Not much, but so much: the sloppy central office is subordinate to his ministry, that is, to him. It’s about political responsibility.
The suspicion against the central office is not new, the investigations have been going on for a long time. The raid on the house of the finance minister is new. It is sensitive for the candidate for chancellor, it comes at an inopportune time. It triggers memories of scandals in which Scholz did not look particularly good: there is the Warburg-Cum-Ex scandal, and there is the Wirecard scandal.
The cum-ex scandal is about the fact that the long-established Hamburg bank has obtained tax credits for many years with dubious share deals – it is about capital gains taxes, 47 million euros for the year 2009 alone. The question is whether Scholz, At that time the mayor of Hamburg, worked towards his tax authorities or at least accepted it with equanimity that the money fraudulently obtained from the bank was not reclaimed. Did Scholz, his former Finance Senator, intervene in an ongoing criminal case in favor of alleged criminals, was there any political intervention? Nothing has been proven, and an investigative committee of the Hamburg citizenship has not cleared the fog. Scholz could hardly remember anything, he washed his hands in innocence.
It was and is similar in the Wirecard scandal and in the investigations of the Wirecard investigative committee. As Scholz himself says, it is the largest case of balance sheet falsification in Germany – large-scale fraud. The supervisory authorities have not fulfilled their duty of supervision. Bafin, the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority, is responsible. After all the failures and mistakes that have become known, it does not deserve this name; it should be called the Federal Agency for Non-Supervision. And what does Scholz have to do with it? He is the agency’s superior, he is politically responsible for ensuring that the agency failed completely. But, as I said, he washes his hands in innocence. Danyal Bayaz, formerly a Green member of the Bundestag and finance minister of the state of Baden-Württemberg since May, commented smugly. the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quotes him with the sentence that Scholz can no longer get the tap, “as often as he washes his hands in innocence”.
The hammer judgment
The public prosecutor’s raid on the Scholz house has strongly activated memories. Why is this happening right now, two weeks before the general election? Do the investigators have political intentions? Is triggering a political calculation? The public prosecutor likes to say of itself that it is the most objective agency in the world. But almost everyone knows that this is not true. The German public prosecutors, unlike the judges, are not independent. You are politically bound by instructions. The right to give political instructions is one of the birth defects of the German public prosecutor’s office. She owes her life “to the government’s need to secure influence over the criminal justice system at all times”. So wrote the Legal journal already during the Weimar period. And so it is to this day: A good two years ago, the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg harshly, correctly and forward-looking criticized the German public prosecutor’s office and the German legislature in a hammer judgment: The public prosecutor’s office is not sufficiently independent of politics, as of prescribed by European law. The EU judges have therefore banned the German public prosecutor’s office from issuing EU arrest warrants.
What has happened since that hammer judgment? Practically nothing. The professional representatives of judges and public prosecutors have been protesting at their meetings for a long time against the public prosecutor’s dependence on politics. Politicians negate these demands as well as the judgment of the European Court of Justice. Politicians point out that such instructions are very rare. This may be. But then these are always the delicate procedures. They run through the history of the republic – Strauss, Kohl, Wulff, Gysi, Edathy. If there are supposedly hardly any instructions in practice, then the instruction-dependency could have long been deleted from the law. It is contrary to the rule of law.
Victim of misery
The raid in the Scholz Ministry was carried out by the Osnabrück public prosecutor’s office. Osnabrück is located in Lower Saxony. The Minister of Justice in Lower Saxony has been Barbara Havliza, CDU, since 2017. She is the highest chief of the public prosecutor’s office in her country, she is authorized to issue instructions. It may be that she has no influence whatsoever on the investigations against officials of the Central Money Laundering Office for obstruction of punishment in the office. It may be that she has absolutely nothing to do with the searches carried out by her public prosecutors in the ministry of the SPD candidate for chancellor (and in the ministry of the SPD minister of justice). But the mere suspicion that it could be so (and under the current legal situation it could be so) is miserable. Whoever becomes head of government in Germany, whether Laschet or Scholz: Both must be concerned with ending this misery – if only because a politician of any kind can be a victim of this misery.
Chance and favor of the hour
Until the raid, the circumstances for the chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz were just as favorable as a good ten years ago when he became first mayor in Hamburg. In the general election on February 20, 2011, he and his SPD spectacularly won an absolute majority. Back then, too, people had already asked themselves what they had been asking themselves over the past few weeks: How can a person as brittle as Olaf Scholz suddenly become a lucky charm? How does one go from a loser to a winner when he himself has remained more or less the same?
Then as now, there may have been certain misjudgments of the person; Laschet also has them today. But for their correction, favorable circumstances must come to the rescue. Scholz and the SPD were able to win the election in Hamburg so gloriously a decade ago because the circumstances were sensationally favorable for them at the time. At that time it was the departure of the CDU mayor Ole von Beusts and the terrible decline of the Hamburg CDU. In the light of the annoyance of the people of Hamburg about the chafing black-green coalition, the focus was turned on Scholz and his SPD. After Ole von Beust’s escape from responsibility, the voters suddenly saw the rather cumbersome Olaf Scholz, who had not let himself be depressed by many defeats and failures in the federal and state levels, as the embodiment of seriousness. And in the face of a completely divided state CDU, Hamburg’s citizens remembered that they had already experienced splendid times under the government of the SPD. Similar to what happened over a decade ago in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg, it is now in the federal government, at the end of the Merkel era.
Core characteristics of a Federal Chancellor
Political success is, at least to a certain extent, also a coincidence and the moment. But such coincidence is part of democratic normality. Democracy also consists of the succession of hui and uhi for those who stand for election. And in a democracy the parties and politicians who can endure such emotional rotation survive. Such a skill is called resilience. If it is one of the core characteristics of a German Federal Chancellor – then this core is present in both Laschet and Scholz.
Every Sunday, Heribert Prantl, columnist and author of the SZ, deals with a topic that will be relevant in the coming week – and sometimes beyond. Here you can also order “Prantls Blick” as a weekly newsletter – exclusively with his personal reading recommendations.