In an exclusive interview with The Metric, the 12th President of the German Parliament Norbert Lammert describes the current state of German politics in the context of the global political climate. Mr. Lammert served as the President of the Bundestag from 2005 to 2017, a role ranked second before Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Q. If you were 16 years old today, would you choose to engage in politics? If so, what would you try to change?
Definitely! Germany in 2017 is no less interesting than Germany in 1964, the year I joined the Young Union (youth organization of the CDU). I would definitely make this decision again, with the goal of fighting for the concerns and requests of our youth generation. Politics is something that should and does concern us all—it shapes our present and our future. That’s why it’s so important to spread the knowledge that every one of us can and should influence the course of society.
Many youths in Europe and the United States are frustrated by politics and choose not to participate. How can we successfully spark political interest in youths and in the rest of the population?
It is a thought-provoking reality that politics is not attractive for many young people. Nonetheless, it is my firm belief that youth today are just as involved or just as uninvolved in politics as the generations before them. And just like before, democracy is a laborious process, a wrestling match for the best solutions to complex problems. Following that, the majority must agree on compromises to implement them. Explaining this lengthy process has become a difficult task especially in today’s short-lived news cycles, but it is incremental to sparking interest in politics. However, the most important feature is the existence of dedicated and trustworthy political actors.
Frustration with politics can easily lead to the rejection of contemporary politics, as seen by the political environment in the United States. How can a government succeed in stopping political radicalization and what steps has the German government already taken?
My advice for anyone in a political position is to assiduously fulfill their tasks as effectively as they can in order to strengthen the general trust in politics. After all, trust is the most important capital of democracy. I also believe it to be desirable that—especially during present times (Germany’s federal elections are scheduled for September 24, 2017)—we are not only humbler in our statements but also more ambitious in our goals and braver in our actions. That is not an easy task since our current problems are so complex with no simple solutions, contrary to what populists would have us believe.
How vulnerable is Germany to populist movements, such as those we've seen in the United States or the United Kingdom? Will the AFD (German right-wing populist party) have a lasting impact on Germany's political environment or is it just a temporary phenomenon?
Despite all of my concerns, I remain optimistic that the historically motivated skepticism in Germany towards extremist movements is particularly strong and will ensure such groups will not last.
You have noted that the style of parliamentary debates in Germany has changed. Could this be considered a cause for the falling voter turnout in elections?
There is no sound way of calculating the immediate impact of parliamentary debates on the electoral turnout—but they are sadly not the most popular TV-programs. But the notion that the Parliament's most important task is to be attractive ignores the true work of representing the people. And, as a matter of fact, electoral participation in Germany recently has been increasing. This indicates that our citizens value a representative democracy during unstable times and make use of it. I especially wish to encourage our young voters to make use of their voting rights. The youth should take a close look at the results of the 2016 UK referendum: more than 70% of British youths voted to remain in the EU! Similarly, Brexit would have never happened if two thirds of youths 16 to 24 years old had not decided to simply stay at home. This is a case of an entire generation underestimating its political influence.
Do you believe that the use of social media bots and political data analysis can influence the results and the distribution of seats in the Bundestag in the long term?
We should not underestimate this phenomenon. Due to the introduction of new media, we more than ever need educated and well-informed users. That is why media competence is incredibly important in today’s society.
There is a picture of you and the Dalai Lama on your website. The caption reads: "It is not easy to change the world, but the attempt is worth it and sometimes it is overdue." Would you say that we have come to a point where change is overdue?
In politics, there cannot be such a thing as a standstill-point. A free society is constantly changing. The aim of politics is to recognize the issues that require action and to develop appropriate and popular solutions. However, in the political process there are always problems that are overdue to be resolved.
What do you think about the future of Germany, particularly in terms of its plight against climate change?
I am confident that Germany will be able to correctly acknowledge its responsibility within the country as well as within the international community. Because of this, our country will also be willing to contribute to solutions to global issues, given our possibilities and resources.
How do you see the future of Germany’s relations within the European Union and the United States? In your opinion, what are the main aspects of the relationships that need to be improved?
What the future brings is difficult to predict. But, in my opinion, it is especially important to maintain an active dialogue within the international community and to preserve what has already been achieved both within the European Union and in transatlantic relations.
This current legislative period in Germany has been one of the most difficult and significant of the 21st century. Do you regret your decision to leave the Bundestag at such an important time?
No, on the contrary. After more than 40 years of working in politics, ten legislative terms in the Bundestag, and almost 12 years serving as Bundestagspräsident (President of Parliament), the time to pass on these responsibilities has come. Admittedly, this decision was not easy for me. It is always difficult to pick the right time for such a departure, but I am sure I could not have chosen a better time.
What are you planning to do in the future?
I consider concert halls to be just as enjoyable as the plenary halls in the Bundestag. Since there are many things beyond politics that I am interested to learn more about, I will surely have many future occupations and will not suffer from a lack of activities.Dr. Lammert’s original responses were translated into English, and they were approved for accuracy before publication of this interview. Special thanks to Thomas Lipke for his assistance with the interview questions.