Transparency and fertile unrest: A better democracy

The polit­i­cal mav­er­ick from Ger­many and one of the experts at the SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM “From Good to Great” 2015, Oswald Met­zger, rec­om­mend­ed an trans­par­ent and open dia­logue between politi­cians and cit­i­zens in order to achieve accep­tance for nec­es­sary mea­sures on the the way to the top.

Oswald Metzger in the interview:

My career as a politi­cian – and my jour­ney from the SPD to the Green Par­ty and then final­ly to the CDU – began when I was 19 years old. Willy Brandt was Germany’s Chan­cel­lor at the time and I was fas­ci­nat­ed by him. So I became a mem­ber of the SPD. I grew up with my grand­par­ents who were rather con­ser­v­a­tive work­ing-class peo­ple. When my grand­fa­ther learned that I had become a mem­ber of the SPD, he told me, “Who is not left-wing in his youth does not have a heart; who is still left-wing in his old age does not have a brain.”

I worked for the SPD for six years as a vol­un­teer and also as a mem­ber of the coun­ty board, man­ag­ing the elec­tion cam­paign in the elec­toral dis­trict. Then I real­ized that my own per­son­al views were dif­fer­ent from the par­ty. So in 1979 I got out and I made up my mind nev­er to become a mem­ber of anoth­er par­ty because of the pet­ti­ness, the small-mind­ed­ness that par­ties require. Then in 1980 the Green Par­ty was found­ed, and since it was new and I was polit­i­cal­ly active in my com­mu­ni­ty, but not as a mem­ber of any par­ty, many peo­ple thought I was part of this new club. I fig­ured, since every­one thinks I’m a mem­ber of the Green Par­ty, I might as well join them. That last­ed for 21 years!

„More per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty is the key to a suc­cess­ful future of a society.”

Now one of the things that I did dur­ing the time I was a mem­ber of the SPD was to study law and then, because I came from real­ly mod­est cir­cum­stances, I reg­is­tered a writ­ing office. At that time I was self-employed and I learned to be entre­pre­neur­ial and much more mar­ket-ori­ent­ed in my economics.

„We need a ‘fer­tile unrest’ – sat­u­ra­tion is the pre­cur­sor of failure.”

As a result, when I entered the Bun­destag as a mem­ber of the Green Par­ty, I was called “the first Green politi­cian who knows any­thing about mon­ey and eco­nom­ics.” Over 2 elec­tion peri­ods (1994 – 2002) I was a mem­ber of the Bun­destag and ready for a third one. But in 2002 – before the nom­i­na­tions for the next elec­tion took part – I dared to crit­i­cize the Ger­man Chan­cel­lor on tele­vi­sion over his eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy toward Euro­pean Union. That end­ed up in not being nom­i­nat­ed for the elec­tion in 2002.

MindMap: Inter­view with Oswald Met­zger (en)

I went back to work with the local Green Par­ty in Baden-Würt­tem­berg. I got a seat in the local par­lia­ment at the elec­tion in 2006, but over time the Greens made a major shift to the left. When they decid­ed that every per­son should have an uncon­di­tion­al basic income paid through tax­es, I resigned. I told them, “You’re crazy. If you want to give every­one 800 Euros per month, regard­less of need, you’re cre­at­ing the illu­sion that mon­ey falls from the sky.”

So I left the Green Par­ty at the end of 2007 and declared in the press to resign as mem­ber of the local par­lia­ment. My col­leagues at the CDU then thought I should join them in the local Par­lia­ment in Stuttgart. But I want­ed a clear cut – left the par­ty and resigned the seat in the par­lia­ment. About six months lat­er, I did, think­ing to myself, “I’m join­ing a people’s par­ty with a Lud­wig Erhard, the father of the Ger­man eco­nom­ic mir­a­cle.” So today, hav­ing been a mem­ber of the SPD and then the Green Par­ty, I am active in the eco­nom­ic wing of the CDU on the nation­al lev­el and I run a small, unusu­al think tank called “Kon­vent für Deutsch­land” – which con­sists of for­mer top politi­cians from all par­ties in Ger­many. We con­sult for the pub­lic wel­fare for con­sti­tu­tion­al reform.

Expe­ri­ence in life teach­es us that things only change if there is a cri­sis. That’s true in com­pa­nies, in pol­i­tics, in soci­ety. Reforms in good times are vir­tu­al­ly impossible.

In pol­i­tics, when I think of the jour­ney from good to great, at the moment I have to con­clude that we have incred­i­ble iner­tia in Ger­many. Today, in pol­i­tics we have too many peo­ple who don’t stand for any­thing. In the past, we had states­men in the best sense of the word: The coun­try comes first, then the par­ty, and then I. That’s one of those sen­tences that dis­tin­guish­es a foun­da­tion of val­ues by a states­per­son. Those peo­ple are becom­ing few­er and fewer.

I think we’re mak­ing a big mis­take in all democ­ra­cies today. Democ­ra­cy depends on a well-informed, enlight­ened, respon­si­ble pop­u­la­tion. Peo­ple need to know about con­nec­tions and inter­re­la­tion­ships – and that goes for all peo­ple and not only the elites.

But the way in which we built Europe was an elite project. Polit­i­cal elites said, “Let’s put it togeth­er. Some­how it will work and the pop­u­la­tion will see the advan­tages: We’ll have falling bound­aries and an improved exchange of goods and mer­chan­dise. We’ll have one com­mon cur­ren­cy and trans­ac­tion costs will go down.” But now you rec­og­nize that areas that have been thrown togeth­er are actu­al­ly very different.

Once again you hear voic­es in Europe that we thought we’d got­ten rid of with the uni­fi­ca­tion process.There have nev­er been as many cen­trifu­gal forces as today, as much hatred and prejudice.Any lawyer would say that the Latin phrase, “Pacta sunt ser­van­da” – agree­ments must be kept – no longer applies to Europe. You write a fis­cal com­pact, then two years lat­er you throw it away. That is trou­ble­some and fright­en­ing. If you want to have a well-informed pop­u­la­tion in a democ­ra­cy, then you have to tell peo­ple the basics of social order.

What do we want as peo­ple? We want to be appre­ci­at­ed. We want to be tak­en seri­ous­ly. We want to dis­cov­er our tal­ents, our skills, in our homes, in the edu­ca­tion sys­tems that we attend, in our jobs, and as cus­tomers. We want to be able to stand on our own feet, to make some­thing of our­selves. If I stand on my own feet, then I make some­thing of myself and I con­tribute to my com­mu­ni­ty. But these basics are being lost.

Today we have re-edu­cat­ed our peo­ple to the mind­set that the state will make every­thing all right. As an indi­vid­ual, I am enti­tled to steadi­ly increas­ing ben­e­fits. But those ben­e­fits cost mon­ey. You have to gen­er­ate that through fees and tax­es before you can dis­trib­ute checks to the public.

The state is not a Swiss Army knife. It can­not func­tion as a jack-of-all-trades.
How do you cre­ate change? Expe­ri­ence in life teach­es us that things only change if there is a cri­sis. That’s true in com­pa­nies, in pol­i­tics, in soci­ety. Reforms in good times are vir­tu­al­ly impossible.

If you want to go from good to great in Upper Aus­tria, you have to ini­ti­ate a dis­cus­sion about the future. You have to take along the main­stream media and address the dif­fer­ent socio-polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions. You need to infect the zeit­geist so the right ques­tions are posed. Because if you don’t ask the right ques­tions, you won’t get any answers from soci­ety. You need to trig­ger some­thing like a “fer­tile unrest” – because being sati­at­ed, being com­pla­cent, being com­fort­able is a pre­cur­sor of failure.

More about Oswald Metzger:

Met­zger con­sid­ered as a polit­i­cal mav­er­ick. His work and life as a politi­cian are char­ac­ter­ized pri­mar­i­ly by one fea­ture: stick­ing to his convictions.

Met­zger start­ed his polit­i­cal career in 1974 with the SPD, then he was a par­ti­san and switched to the Green par­ty in 1987 for near­ly 21 years before he became a mem­ber of the CDU in 2008. Through­out his polit­i­cal career Met­zger always rep­re­sent­ed his own opin­ion, even against estab­lished par­ty lines.

In 2003, Oswald Metzger’s book “Ein­spruch. Wider den organ­isierten Staats­bankrott” (Objec­tion. Against an orga­nized state bank­rupt­cy) was pub­lished, in which he pub­licly express­es crit­i­cism of the risky debt pol­i­cy in Ger­many. In 2009 Met­zger pub­lished “Die ver­lo­gene Gesellschaft” (The meda­cious soci­ety), in which he address­es and process­es the socio-polit­i­cal dilem­ma of hon­esty in politics.

Since 2010 Oswald Met­zger is deputy chair­man of the small busi­ness asso­ci­a­tion in Baden-Würt­tem­berg and exec­u­tive sec­re­tary of the “Con­vent for Germany”.