‘No second shutdown’, Germany’s Altmaier promises business leaders

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier at the BDI's Industry Day: "New taxes are poison for the upswing" [EPA-EFE | Clemens Bilan]

Speaking at the annual Industry Day event, Germany’s Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) promised business leaders that there would not be a second shutdown. He also took the opportunity to be critical of his SPD colleague, Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Altmaier spoke on Monday afternoon (5 October) on Industry Day, organised by the Federation of German Industries (BDI). Entrepreneurs, medium-sized businesses, industrialists: this has been his audience for years. He knows what they want to hear, and he gave them that.

“There must be no second shutdown. And as far as I am concerned, there will not be a second shutdown for industry and business,” Altmaier said to big applause.

When he addressed the current rising infection figures in Germany, he took those present out of guilt: this had nothing to do with the risk of infection in companies, the cause was rather private. Altmaier specifically mentioned family celebrations.

In fact, there was a coronavirus outbreak at a party in North Rhine-Westphalia around the end of September and 900 people had to be quarantined.

However, at least in the summer, there were also larger outbreaks on farms, for example in slaughterhouses like Tönnies. According to some employees, such as Lukasz Kowalski, the poor working and living conditions contributed to the formation of clusters. At the time, Altmaier called for clarification and improvements, for example in housing.

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“It’s always the others”

There was also a hint of early campaigning in the Verti Music Hall, or rather frustration with the premature campaigning of others.

“I would like to tell you that we are less concerned with the question of who will be the candidate for chancellor or minister in a few months’ time, but that we are tackling the major political challenges,” Altmaier said.

His cabinet colleagues are coming up with new proposals all the time: Christine Lambrecht (SPD) with her fair consumer contracts, Hubertus Heil (SPD) wants a right to home office, while his Union colleague Gerd Müller (CSU) has chipped in with his supply chain law. “Every minister probably wants to do what he thinks he is elected for,” Altmaier said.

A small barb followed against the SPD’s candidate for chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister Scholz, who called again at the weekend for a wealth tax to stem the costs of the coronavirus crisis.

Altmaier took up the ball on Monday. A tax increase would be wrong right now, he said, that would be “poison for the upswing.” And if you ask the proponents of a tax on the rich who the rich are, “it’s always the others, never themselves.”

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Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister and chancellor candidate for the Social Democrats (SPD), is currently in the spotlight for his involvement in two financial scandals currently shaking German politics: the Wirecard and Cum-Ex scandals. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“Dignified life” for the next generation

In the case of climate change, Altmaier called for preserving a livable planet for future generations.

The young activists are “not fanatical. They are middle-class, young people with great grades who are willing to work hard,” the minister said.

The important thing now is to make long-term decisions and promote key technologies, not just battery cells, but diversification, because technological progress is unpredictable. This would also create jobs.

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While the unemployment rate in the eurozone reached 8.1% in August, it rose to 7.4% for the bloc as a whole, according to Eurostat. EURACTIV’s partner EUROEFE reports.

The fact that Brussels is now increasing the climate targets was not his idea, he said. “In nine years as a minister, I have not increased any climate targets at all but wanted to meet the existing ones.” But these efforts were necessary, he said, so that the next generation could lead a “life in dignity.”

The previous speaker, European Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, also emphasised the need for a climate-friendly European industry. This will find a place in the new version of the EU industrial strategy, which is to be published next year.

She said a decision would soon be taken as to whether the Commission would once again extend the rules for state aid, which had been made more flexible due to the coronavirus crisis.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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