Latest World News

Wolfgang Schmidt: The man at Scholz’ side


Like a Mainzel man in the engine room: Wolfgang Schmidt is not one for the limelight. The Chancellor’s Minister prefers to pull the strings in the background. He has an almost symbiotic relationship with Scholz.

By Moritz Rödle, ARD Capital Studio

Wolfgang Schmidt has a great passion. Football. FC St. Pauli plays in the second division, just like city rivals HSV. But St. Pauli is the cool club in Hamburg.

Schmidt is a fan, shares the fever, tweets intermediate results when things are going well, but also when things aren’t going well. He has a season ticket for his club’s home games. However, he can use them less and less. Ever since Schmidt became chancellor’s minister, he hasn’t had time for football. He hasn’t been to the stadium for months. “I was there twice in the first half of the season. Maybe there will be another chance in the second half of the season,” he says in an interview with the ARD Capital Studio.

If he can’t, he gives the card to friends. They then go there for him, while Schmidt can watch at most on the television. Because one of Schmidt’s passions is probably even greater than his love for football. The politic. Schmidt has an agenda. He wants to change something, together with his boss Olaf Scholz. He is willing to invest a lot for this, also personally.

Loyal team player

Schmidt is considered a workaholic who works around the clock and gets by with very little sleep. He is a team player and absolutely loyal to the Chancellor.

In this way he has had a remarkable career. Schmidt has been at Scholz’s side for more than 20 years. In 2002, the then new Secretary General of the SPD, Scholz, made Schmidt his speaker. The lawyer later followed his boss to the Federal Ministry of Labor. In 2011, Scholz became Prime Minister in Hamburg. Schmidt is now State Councilor and the City of Hamburg’s authorized representative at the federal level. This makes him an extended arm and voice of Scholz in Berlin.

This will remain the case even after the 2017 federal election. Scholz becomes Vice Chancellor and Schmidt his State Secretary in the Ministry of Finance. When Scholz becomes chancellor in 2021, Schmidt almost inevitably follows him as chancellery minister.

Almost a symbiotic relationship: Chancellor Scholz and Chancellor Schmidt

Image: dpa

symbiotic relationship

Companions speak of an almost symbiotic relationship. Schmidt makes up for what Scholz may be missing. He gets along well with people, is a good host and almost un-Hanseatic friendly, interested and approachable. There are probably hardly any journalists in Berlin without Schmidt’s cell phone number. He is happy to explain his view of the world to you.

In this way, he has his boss’s back free. If necessary, he also defends him against allegations, for example in the Cum-Ex scandal. When he was still State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance, he fought nightly Twitter duels with the former left-wing finance expert Fabio De Masi.

Schmidt has three very close friends in politics: Nils Annen, Björn Böhning, and Benjamin Mikfeld. Of the four men, he is the only one who was not Juso Federal Chairman. This shows how Schmidt views politics. He is not a mandate politician. He almost never sought elective office. During his working life he was an official, working more in the engine room than on the bridge. Someone who would rather pull the strings in the background than be in the limelight himself. He also sees his job in the Chancellery that way.

Not a public communicator

Unlike his predecessors Helge Braun or Peter Altmaier, Schmidt is not a public communicator. He doesn’t go on talk shows. Since he became Minister of the Chancellery, there have been no more duels on Twitter. As head of the Chancellery, he is responsible for everything and nothing. He would like to avoid the danger of having to talk about topics from cabinet colleagues. He prefers to do this in silence.

Anyone who gets an interview with him can count themselves lucky. As Federal Minister for Special Tasks, there is always the danger that he will trample around in the front yard of another minister, he told the minister ARD Capital Studio. And he doesn’t want that. His job is more comparable to that of a Mainzelmännchen: “Being there at night, pulling weeds, mowing the lawn so that the entire ensemble looks good during the day.” Because if the whole ensemble looked good, then the government would look good too. “And then the chancellor looks good too.”

Schmidt can’t do anything with the quarrels at the traffic lights. He bills it as inexperience. In fact, he wants to rule differently. noiseless. With protected spaces from which nothing should leak to the media and which therefore allow space for constructive discussions between the three coalition partners. “If we destroy these rooms, if we broadcast everything live and in color, then we won’t be able to find a solution.”

Avoid showdown situations

He wants to prevent showdown situations from occurring because he believes “that they don’t help the matter”. It is therefore also hard to imagine that Schmidt would recommend the chancellor to use the power to issue directives again so quickly, as he did in the dispute over longer operating times for nuclear power plants.

Schmidt and Scholz have a common ideal of governance: A problem is not discussed publicly. Instead, the coalition is looking for solutions together. Only when they have been established do they go public.

In terms of character, Schmidt may be a different type than the chancellor. In their approach to politics, however, the two are very similar. Chancellors and chancellery ministers always want to know things in detail. They are reluctant to rely on information from third parties.

SPD leader Saskia Esken says about Schmidt: He is a walking encyclopedia of current knowledge. He always knows everything and has the right to judge and decide things on the basis of a good foundation of facts. If there is one weakness at all – which they share – it is this thirst for knowledge.

Low point: G20 summit in Hamburg

But it’s not like things have always gone uphill for Schmidt. His biggest defeat is certainly the G20 summit in Hamburg in the summer of 2017. Schmidt organized it. Serious riots ensue. Scholz is under pressure.

In retrospect, Schmidt converted another political failure into a victory. After Scholz’s defeat in the fight for the SPD party chairmanship, it is Schmidt who immediately looks ahead again and continues to talk about the fact that Scholz can still become chancellor. At the time, he was laughed at for it. Today, the SPD is convinced that Scholz would never have become chancellor without this defeat. The fact that Scholz does not give up during this time is probably also one of Schmidt’s merits.

With the start of the chancellorship, Schmidt’s role also changed. He still knows how the chancellor ticks. The two understand each other in a few words. Schmidt ensures that the house provides the chancellor with what he needs. But he is no longer Scholz’s first employee and is therefore always at his side. The two see each other much less often.

Authority Chancellery

Schmidt no longer travels with him. Even when Scholz meets state guests, the Chancellery Minister is usually absent. He now has a leadership role of his own. He must ensure that the Chancellery functions as an authority and that his portfolio as a minister does not cause any problems.

Among other things, Schmidt is also responsible for the secret services in his office and coordinates the policy of the traffic light government in a group of three, with two representatives from the Greens and the FDP. He now has his own political responsibility.

Others are now spending more time with the chancellor: government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit. Scholz’ office manager Jeanette Schwamberger and his political advisers Jens Plötner and Jörg Kukies. Schmidt inevitably hears less from the chancellor because he now has other responsibilities. To do this, he had to develop further – less a functionary, more politicians.

Expression of this change: When a successor for the resigned Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht is sought, his name keeps coming up. Schmidt is now believed by many to also head a specialist ministry. Will that ever happen? Doubtful, the 52-year-old is still too important in the Scholz system. It is said that the chancellor weighs up exactly where Schmidt is most valuable to him. In the future he will probably come to the conclusion that the loss of his chancellery minister would weigh too heavily.