Paul Ziemiak is one of the CDU’s great expectations for young talent. How should the party position itself in the future, how will the corona rules be continued and what can we learn from reunification? His answers will make you sit up and pay attention.
Few young politicians in the CDU have made a career in the party as quickly as Paul Ziemiak: he has been in the Bundestag since 2017 and since 2018 he has been the general secretary of party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Born in Poland and moved to the Federal Republic as a child, the 35-year-old is considered one of the party’s conservative leaders. He has long called for voters to be returned from the AfD to the CDU.
In an interview with Chillreport, Ziemiak draws a positive balance of reunification, defines the CDU’s conservative profile and explains why he doesn’t believe in the era of a ‘strong man’ in politics.
Chillreport: Mr Ziemiak, the whole country is talking about Corona and October 3 is a historic day. What is your impression: was Germany really reunited 30 years after unification?
Paul Ziemiak: To be honest, I think the country has never been more united than it is now. We live in the best Germany that has ever existed. On German Unity Day we should realize what a beautiful country we live in and be proud of it!
Nevertheless, the frustration of some citizens is still great, as the latest state elections in the East have shown. Many people feel that their life achievements are not valued enough.
I understand that very much. We often talk about the courage of the people who broke down the wall. Far too seldom do we appreciate what these people achieved after the peaceful revolution, how they handled and overcome the many upheavals. Of course, some things could be done even better, such as financial security for women or compensation for SED victims. Overall, however, I see us on the right track.
What do you still think is the biggest difference between East and West?
There is no longer “the west” and “the east”. People in Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin see life differently from people in the Brandenburg countryside. The difference between a mining area in Saxony and a city like Dresden is probably just as great as that between the Ruhr area and Hamburg.
So don’t you see any major differences between East and West?
Seriously sounds like a big difference. I would disagree with that. But people in the East are more critical when it comes to big political promises. I also often find that media coverage in the East is examined very carefully.
However, the Day of German Unity should be an opportunity to focus not on what divides, but what connects. Symbols that show how we feel our country are important. This is one of the reasons why I am calling for the national anthem to be included in the Basic Law. It is also a state symbol and it expresses the social demands we place on our country. Unity and justice and freedom. These values may never have been as important as they are now.
This can also be seen in the corona pandemic. Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt take a special path in that they provide only a few rules of conduct. In doing so, they oppose the Chancellor’s wish for a unified line. Doesn’t that hurt the unity of Germany?
On Tuesday, the prime ministers and federal government agreed on common standards, which is a good thing. But you see, it is perfectly clear that various drastic measures are being taken in the areas affected by the virus to varying degrees. The eastern states are just less affected, so the easing could be more extensive there. That is also a strength of federalism. I don’t see this opening new gaps.
Paul Ziemiak: “There is no longer ‘the west’ and ‘the east'” (Source: Michael Hübner for Chillreport)
In the other federal states, however, many rules are being tightened: parties and the serving of alcohol are limited. These are drastic interventions by the state in the private lives of citizens. Where do you see the line that government and parliament should not cross in the fight against Corona?
Well, the measures have been strictly monitored all along, including by the courts. They serve the health and life protection and that we can monitor the infections so that we can avoid a second lockdown.
So the state could do a lot more?
It is always a matter of weighing legal interests. The state must ensure health protection while always respecting citizens’ private life and fundamental rights. Every action of the state is bound by law and statute, in particular constitutional law. Clearly, limitations are solely due to this absolutely exceptional situation. It’s always about protecting civilians.
In the Corona crisis, politicians who seem dominant are getting a lot of support. Markus Söder and Jens Spahn are examples. Are we seeing the beginning of a new era of the “strong man” in politics?
I don’t think much of such clichés. Politicians must be able to listen and motivate, but always have a clear, understandable line in their decisions. The Chancellor in particular has this confidence. We are lucky that she is the head of this country.
Don’t these “violent measures” overwhelm the state?
Your question implies that the state is in control. It is not so.
But there are more violent violations of fundamental rights than at any time in the history of the Federal Republic. For example, the state now dictates how many people they can invite to their homes.
Again, the state must weigh health protection and civil liberties. This also applies in this case.
But it is possible that a federal government will want to enforce some of these rules to prevent future pandemics.
There is really no evidence for this. We want to get back to normal as soon as it is somehow possible. And freedom and personal responsibility are especially important to my party. The government is always controlled by the courts. I can rule out that measures simply have to be continued without justification.
In Asia, even before Corona, many people wore masks in public because they got used to them. In Germany, you were allowed to keep a mask requirement even after the pandemic during flu season. This would protect many people from infection. The flu can also be deadly.
First, if people voluntarily wear masks to protect themselves from possible disease, there is nothing wrong with that. Corona presented us with an absolutely exceptional situation.
In this exceptional situation, special measures were taken that were only introduced to combat this pandemic. Nobody takes these measures lightly. At a time when there is still no vaccine and no reliable therapy, we need to protect each other differently. When Corona is over, none of the measures to contain the corona pandemic will remain unfounded.
An interview with CDU man Ziemiak: “People in the East are more critical when it comes to big political promises.” (Source: Michael Hübner for Chillreport)
We take your word for it. But can you understand people who don’t want to wear a mask even now?
No I can not. I also find masks annoying and uncomfortable, I get irritated sometimes when I have to wear one. But I am a mature person and I know that I have a responsibility to the people around me. That’s why I wear a mask where it’s needed. Point. I can of course understand the frustration of people having to wear a mask all day long because their job demands it. Not with everyone else. What’s worse: that I have to put on a mask when refueling – or that my children are not allowed to go to school because of an exit restriction?
Mask opponents are especially increasing in the Corona protests. How do you explain the heterogeneous mix of protesters taking to the streets there?
The corona protests are different. Many critics are particularly affected by the restrictions, such as bus companies or employees in the event industry. They complain that the hard cuts in the spring were disproportionate. These people have to be taken very seriously, you have to listen to them. But there are also conspiracy theorists, such as the QAnon movement, who seriously believe that elites of this world would drink the blood of children to stay young longer. That cannot be surpassed absurdly, and it must be contested.
Do you see parallels with the demonstrations in the year of the refugee crisis in 2015?
The two facts are completely different. But there is a parallel that too many people no longer want to listen to each other. The microphones are on, but the heads are closed. There is only shouting. It is all the more important now that we as a union of the CDU and CSU strengthen the center of society and keep the country together.
Her colleague, Health Minister Jens Spahn and candidate for the CDU vice-chairmanship, said in February: The Union is in the greatest crisis in its history. Do you agree?
Again, the Union has a great responsibility. It is true that we are leading the country through another crisis. We have a great responsibility and we want to live up to it.
Jens Spahn wasn’t worried about the corona pandemic. He criticized the state of the party.
This year we have taken many steps in the right direction: we have made the party much more digital and modern. Naturally, we also discuss the right path for us as a party. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of getting too busy. We have to do our job and do what people ask of us. The CDU has always been chosen because we act rather than just talk. First the country, then the party.
Paul Ziemiak in an interview with Chillreport journalists: “I am in favor of including the national anthem in the basic law.” (Source: Michael Hübner for Chillreport)
Which of the three applicants are you likely to do: Merz, Laschet or Röttgen?
I understand you care. But as Secretary General, I do not participate in these public debates.
In other words, does the CDU need a sharper profile?
We are a people’s party, that’s what sets us apart. We place what connects before what separates. That is a great strength. We have three strong roots: the Christian social, the liberal and the value conservative. If we don’t neglect these roots, we can successfully assume responsibility for Germany.
Please make it more specific: what does value conservatism mean to you?
Being conservative in values means recognizing and defending the values of our society, but also allowing change where it is needed. That means thinking values and reality together in a changing world and acting accordingly. It always means translating the values that shape us in a contemporary way. This, incidentally, distinguishes us from structural conservatives who do not want change. Preserve values and enable progress based on them. This is what value conservative politics is all about.
A liberal or a social democrat might say that or something.
I doubt that. The Union is the only force that thinks together freedom and responsibility, solidarity and subsidiarity. You will not find that at any other party.
Let’s make it more specific: in your view, is a project like the mother’s pension or the abolition of military service worth conservatism?
The crucial question is always: what is important to our country? And this decision is also made on the basis of an inner attitude.
You have not answered the question.
You cannot just attribute individual problems to individual roots. That would be a very instrumental understanding of values. This is not how Christian Democratic politics works. Attitude stems from our roots and our values. And from this attitude we make politics and we solve problems. One point is that we believe that families are at the heart of society.
Do you have a classic family photo in mind: husband, wife and two children?
No. I think it is important that families are strengthened. Every family should be free to choose how they want to live. We Christian Democrats see every family – with their strengths and weaknesses, no matter what they look like.
But what’s the core of your family photo?
The core is always the mutual acceptance of responsibility and usually also the care of children. Children’s needs are always at the heart of our family policy.
Mr. Ziemiak, thank you for the interview.