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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 October 2005, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Who runs Germany?
On Sunday 02 October 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed His Excellency Thomas Matussek, German Ambassador to UK

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Thomas Matussek, German Ambassador to UK
His Excellency Thomas Matussek, German Ambassador to UK

ANDREW MARR: Now, turning swiftly to another country - who runs Germany?

Hard to say just at the moment because of the indecisive general election two weeks ago, it's a stalemate.

Gerhard Schroeder has been hanging on and there's been much talk of a grand coalition - roughly equivalent to, I suppose, Tony Blair and Michael Howard agreeing to rule together.

But there are increasing hints that tomorrow he will chuck in the beach towel and concede to Angela Merkel and her right of centre CDU. Would she, however, really be able to govern as she wants?

Well a man who knows more about all of this than the rest of us is the German Ambassador in London, Thomas Matussek, Thomas welcome to the programme. Well, in short, what do you think is going on?

THOMAS MATUSSEK: Well most people, as you said, expect the grand coalition which would be a good thing because you need a broad basis for the reform agenda we have to implement.

Just as a matter of interest, with our election system Angela Merkel, if she gets in, will get about a third of the seats. Tony Blair, who has exactly the same percentage of the vote, 35.5, has 55 per cent of the seats.

ANDREW MARR: But if reform matters, and it clearly does, isn't it a big problem where you have got two ideologically opposed and different parties forced to compromise on every issue? Won't it be in the fact the case that Angela Merkel - if it is Angela Merkel - as the next chancellor, just can't get her stuff through?

THOMAS MATUSSEK: Well the good news is they are not fundamentally different. We are talking about shades of grey.

These are two big parties which have various groups, they have trade union wings, they have the economic wing, both are committed to a reform agenda and the main reproach the CDU gives to Gerhard Schroeder is the idea is good but the implementation so far has not been very professional, we can do it better.

So if these two major forces who are both committed to a reform agenda are together, they represent more than 70 per cent of the people and I think they can do the job.

ANDREW MARR: Now the election of course isn't quite over because we're still waiting for a seat in Dresden at the moment, but assuming that the numbers are as we think they are this coalition would include both of the big parties and the liberals as well?

THOMAS MATUSSEK: No, because that's not necessary. If you have both of the big parties you have about 70 per cent of the electorate so they can do the job alone. If somebody of the smaller ones would like to come on board, I think they would be welcome, but what I read in the papers I think they're quite happy to stay in opposition.

ANDREW MARR: The last grand coalition, back in the Sixties, was not an enormous success, was it?

THOMAS MATUSSEK: Well again, here, I beg to differ. I think they got a number of very important issues out of the way and then they very amiably parted ways and I think this is what most people expect from the grand coalition: let's get the reform agenda through and then let's do something else. It's not a love marriage, it's a marriage of convenience.

ANDREW MARR: Yes. What did you make of Tony Blair's comment about German angst in his party speech?

THOMAS MATUSSEK: Well in the context of the his speech I think it was fair description of a mood which goes through the country where some people feel the future is not quite certain. It's reflected in many ways - you see here in this country I read that the average indebtedness is 140 per cent of the annual income.

In Germany, they have the cash, they push it under the mattress, because they don't know what the next year brings. But if you look at the overall performance of corporate German economy, it's really picking up quite strongly.

ANDREW MARR: It did quite well on export -

THOMAS MATUSSEK: ... on export -

ANDREW MARR: There's a kind of grumpy mood in the country isn't there?

THOMAS MATUSSEK: Yes there is a grumpy mood in the country because if you are used to a certain standard of living, to a certain security, and people ask you for sacrifices, it's very difficult. There are many people in this country who say Germany needs a Maggie Thatcher. Helmut Schmidt, the former chancellor, says no, that's not true, they need Arthur Scargill, because -

ANDREW MARR: You need an opponent.

THOMAS MATUSSEK: - the pain isn't there. You know, you have the trains run on time, they are cheap and noiseless. You have all the big cars - you need a new hip, you get it next week. You see, and to explain to the people -

ANDREW MARR: That it's not so bad - it's not so bad.

THOMAS MATUSSEK: No. But it's very expensive.

ANDREW MARR: It's very expensive. One thing that will affect us all, as to whether it's Schroeder or Merkel, of course is Turkey, because they've taken completely different views - we were talking earlier on in the paper review about this. If Angela Merkel becomes chancellor, does that really finish Turkey's hopes of full membership of the EU, certainly in this round of talks?

THOMAS MATUSSEK: Well certainly her government would be committed to aim for a privileged partnership. She says, at the same time she will stick to agreements made so far. So they will start the negotiations but I think with the aim of a privileged partnership and not full membership.

ANDREW MARR: Because a privileged partnership is not what Turkey wants - they would be bitterly disappointed.

THOMAS MATUSSEK: Absolutely. But sometimes you can't get what you want.

ANDREW MARR: And when do you think we'll know who the new chancellor is? Guess ...?

THOMAS MATUSSEK: Well my personal guess would be rather sooner than later.

ANDREW MARR: Sooner than later. Well maybe as soon as Monday, we'll see. Thank you very much indeed. Nice to have you here.

THOMAS MATUSSEK: Not at all. Thank you.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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