Mr. Otto, an entrepreneur working in the construction industry and president of the cross-party business club VBKI, is leading coalition negotiations for the CDU. Is this okay?
Otto: It can’t do any harm if the parties bring experts to the negotiating table. Of course, you have to be careful with dual or self-interests, lobbyists should not negotiate a coalition agreement.
Mr. Voigt, what does your engineering office deal with?
Voigt: We are focused on infrastructure in the field of renewable energies and water management. Basically, our projects have little to do with the urban development, construction and housing working group, in which I work at the invitation of the CDU. I see myself neither as a party representative nor as a lobbyist, but as a representative of civil society I would like to contribute to governing with pragmatism instead of ideology.
What are the goals of the working group?
Voigt: Set things down in the contract that will be measurable and verifiable in three and a half years at the end of the election period. But also looking beyond the legislature to see whether there could be a longer-term vision for the city. Politics often only works in election cycles, which is why it is important to involve non-political expertise.
Otto: For me, the decisive question is which criteria were used to select the experts. Only one trade unionist is represented in 13 working groups, and I would have wished for more participation on issues relevant to the economy.
As a member of the Greens, you have to see it that way.
Otto: As IG Metall, we tried to establish good relationships with all top candidates, including Kai Wegner. As IG Metall, we have offered to advise on the coalition negotiations as experts. The industrial policy challenges are getting bigger, for example with the shortage of skilled workers.
Mr. Voigt, will your AG find a way to more affordable housing?
Voigt: If we didn’t have an extremely difficult budget and a highly indebted state of Berlin, then funding instruments for people would be conceivable. But I can hardly imagine that we will achieve the housing construction targets without additional public funds. It’s about money and administrative action: the acceleration of development plan procedures, the introduction of a digital construction file and a digital development plan. The outstanding project is the administrative reform. Many things are not progressing because the division of tasks between the Senate and the districts has not been clarified.
Mr. Otto, like Markus Voigt, are you in favor of building on the outskirts of Tempelhofer Feld?
Otto: You have to consider that. The dispute over Tempelhof seems to me to be heavily influenced by newcomers who live in the inner-city districts. Marzahn or Köpenick have completely different problems and sometimes a catastrophic infrastructure. In Köpenick, for example, residents can no longer find parking spaces because everything has been built over. We need an answer to the question that plagues hundreds of thousands: How can rent stay affordable?
Voigt: The Tempelhof topic is emotionally charged. Also, because claims have been and are being made again and again that are not true. It’s a border development. Berlin is growing to four million inhabitants, and we have to keep this city socially cohesive, which includes housing. However, the war in Ukraine has completely changed the framework conditions, the interest rate for ten-year real estate financing is four times as high today as it was a year ago. The prices for raw materials and building materials have risen massively. In the case of an average project with an average standard, as a builder you now need a net rent of at least 16 euros per square meter.
Hardly anyone can pay for that.
Vogt: Yes. And I don’t know how we can get out of the dilemma without additional government funding. These are the challenges facing the city. And we can only tackle this together, for example with the continuation of the Alliance for Housing. The rent cap, on the other hand, was introduced without having properly consulted experts and lawyers. That’s what I mean by ideology-driven politics that doesn’t get us anywhere.
Otto: I also promote a pragmatic, solution-oriented policy. It’s possible in a progressive, left-wing city – that’s Berlin even after the repeat election and the 28 percent for the CDU. When it comes to social housing, we have to have different standards than other cities – incidentally, this also applies to the workers that we need in Berlin. Housing is a service of general interest, which is why we can’t manage it without government involvement. The referendum to “expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.” is therefore justified.
Does that also apply to the climate decision on March 26?
Otto: We want to achieve climate neutrality as quickly as possible and at the same time carefully. One must not exaggerate in referendums by raising unrealistic expectations. For example, it is impossible to have only electric cars driving through the city in 2030.
Mr. Voigt, will we gain momentum in the energy transition, especially in the heating transition, when the state of Berlin takes over district heating and the majority in Gasag?
Voigt: You can discuss that in terms of services of general interest. There are state-owned companies in the area of services of general interest, and a combination of relevant energy industry companies or services can bring about synergies. So I wouldn’t reject it from the outset, but then district heating and Gasag must also come to an end. The discussion about the socialization of housing groups damages trust, as does the attitude that the state can arbitrarily take on this or that task. Without private investors we will not make any progress.
Otto: I think that’s nonsense. There is no breach of trust. People keep coming into town and so do investors; Berlin will grow. At the same time, the shortage of skilled workers is getting worse. The training allocation decided by the old Senate is indispensable. We will accompany the new Senate differently this time. With the last coalition, we made the mistake of not criticizing the Senate at all for the first ten months. That won’t happen to us this time.
That sounds like great mistrust of black and red.
Otto: I can exchange ideas with Kai Wegner in a good and binding manner. The question is, however, whether we can find a consensus on important issues, which include not only the training allocation, but also adherence to collective bargaining agreements for public contracts and an active industrial policy.
Does Wegner understand business?
Otto: Yes. And he’s committed. When we had the conflict at Mercedes in Marienfelde and the future of the plant was hanging in the balance, Kai Wegner was one of the first politicians to inquire about the current state of affairs and to agree.
Voigt: Kai Wegner is one of the most underestimated politicians in the city, which was also shown in the exploratory talks, which were conducted with great diplomatic skill. He works intensively on every topic and is well wired in all social classes.
Why aren’t you a CDU member?
Voigt: That doesn’t go together with my voluntary work. Basically, I’m liberal and, as VBKI President, I try to maintain good relations with all democratic parties.
Otto: I agree that Kai Wegner is underestimated. But is it the best possible coalition for progressive Berlin? Let’s wait and see. The SPD is not just about the city, but about posts and power, at least it seems that way. In my opinion, there was not enough discussion about black and green.
With further ideological disputes about Friedrichstrasse and the A100?
Voigt: Friedrichstrasse is really not a crucial issue, and the signs that have been put up all over the place look terrible.
Otto: Bettina Jarasch promoted an integrated traffic concept. This includes reasonably safe cycling and a road infrastructure that also gives the economy the space it needs. As head of IG Metall, it is clear that we do not live from the digital economy alone, but we need manufacturing and trade: I would like cars and motorcycles to be built in this city in the future. For this we have to check which logistics are required for this.
Which administration is the most important in the new Senate?
Otto: For me, the decisive factor is whether the Governing Mayor puts the most important issues first. Business and industry in Berlin must once again become top priority, as was the case under Michael Müller.
Alfons Frese moderated the conversation.