SPD top candidate-“A completely car-free city is unrealistic

As Berlin’s top SPD candidate, Franziska Giffey wants to move into the Red City Hall. In the t-online interview, she explains how she wants to improve public transport, the housing market and education in the capital. 

“Quite Safe  Berlin ” is the title of the  SPD election program for the Berlin  House of Representatives election  on September 26th. Difficult months lie behind the co-chairman and top candidate of the regional association,  Franziska Giffey . In June, the Free University of Berlin revoked her doctorate for “deceiving the independence of her academic achievements” . That is why she resigned as Federal Minister for Family Affairs beforehand . In her master’s thesis, too, she is said to have cited incorrectly, as reported by t-online .

Nevertheless, Giffey’s chances of moving into the Red City Hall are good. Current surveys see the SPD clearly ahead. A few weeks before the election, Franziska Giffey spoke to t-online about the major construction sites in the capital, expropriations and a 365-euro ticket for local transport. 

t-online: Finding an apartment in Berlin can be the purest odyssey. Rents are high and the available apartments are scarce. You want to defuse the housing shortage primarily through new construction. Is that enough to relieve tenants even in the short term?

Franziska Giffey: If the demand is higher than the supply, it is necessary to increase the supply. That’s why I would make building new apartments in Berlin a matter for the bosses. But the more effective protection of tenants is also important to me. Existing tenant protection regulations must be implemented consistently.

Tenants are not left without protection, even if the rent cap has failed before the Federal Constitutional Court. There is the rent brake, which has been tightened again in the federal government, and the rent index. Here, however, it all too often fails due to implementation. We see that some landlords still make dubious contracts or exploitative ancillary agreements. It is therefore important that tenants receive advice and legal assistance in order to take action.

You and your co-chairman Raed Saleh have strongly criticized the Green top candidate Bettina Jarasch for her announcement that she will vote for the referendum on expropriation in September. So socialization of any kind is excluded with the SPD?

First of all, we have a referendum, the outcome of which we will treat with respect and responsibility. In terms of content, however, my position on this is clear: expropriations are not the appropriate means of solving the great social question of affordable housing. It should not be forgotten that every expropriation in Germany is associated with compensation payments. The landlords who behave unfairly on the rental market would be rewarded with compensation payments in the billions instead of being made responsible. And it doesn’t create a single new apartment.

Expropriating flat-rate companies with more than 3,000 apartments is neither targeted nor fair. But if apartment and property owners do not take care of their houses and apartments for years, let their properties go into neglect and do not create new living space, then action must be taken and effective action against property speculation.

So, could you imagine expropriations for housing companies or landowners who don’t obey the rules?

Expropriations are clearly regulated in the Basic Law. This is an instrument that can only be used to the extreme if no milder means are available, for example to ensure a major, overarching goal such as the protection of the population. For this, expropriation was included in the Basic Law, not to punish someone who does not show themselves to be cooperative in any way. That’s a big difference. We need to find more proportionate, more targeted means.

Another important topic is the traffic turnaround, which must succeed so that Berlin can meet its climate targets. What has to happen here in the next few years?

Above all, we want to advance the extension of the subway in the outskirts. This will of course take time, but we have to finally start.

In general, the local public transport network and the cycle path network must be expanded. We also need a wider range of services and a different frequency for S-Bahn, trams and buses – especially in the late evening hours in the outskirts. In order for people to switch, the attractiveness, but also the affordability of local public transport must be improved. The SPD has therefore proposed a 365-euro ticket for all Berliners. If there are good alternative offers, more people will forego the car.

Aren’t these two projects in the way? Due to lower ticket prices, the necessary money for the expansion of the local public transport network is likely to be missing.

Of course, you cannot introduce a 365-euro ticket overnight. Our network could not cope with the increased traffic volume with the current frequency. You have to be well prepared for such a step in order not to cause dissatisfaction among the passengers. But the project is a perspective that could motivate many Berliners to switch.

But we also have to admit that the city cannot do this on its own. The transport links in Berlin as the capital are of national importance. In order to advance the expansion of the lines, we are dependent on financial resources from the federal government. Raising these for Berlin will be an important task in the new legislature.

SPD top candidate, Franziska Giffey: She wants to offer Berliners a 365-euro ticket for local transport.  (Source: V. Saizew)

SPD top candidate, Franziska Giffey: She wants to offer Berliners a 365-euro ticket for local transport. (Source: V. Saizew)

You called the idea of ​​a car-free city “unreal”. How do you plan to ban combustion engines from the streets in the future? After all, more charging stations do not automatically mean more e-cars.

We rely on offers instead of bans. Some people are dependent on cars because, for example, they have to transport more than just themselves. Others just like to drive, and that shouldn’t be demoned either. But that can also be done in an environmentally friendly way. That is why the expansion of the e-charging stations is extremely important in order to motivate these people to switch to e-cars.

Investments in technologies such as hydrogen or e-fuels are also crucial. The traffic turnaround could succeed in a socially acceptable way through environmentally friendly drives for older cars too. But the vision of a completely car-free city in a metropolis of almost four million like Berlin is unrealistic from my point of view.

Bicycle traffic is also an important pillar of the traffic transition. Cyclists regularly have fatal accidents in Berlin. What can be done here?

Much more needs to be invested in safe bike paths. Too little has happened here in recent years. Of the cycle paths planned by 2030, between zero and 1.4 percent were implemented during this legislative period, depending on the type of route. That has to be much more and faster. In my opinion, a prerequisite for this is to bring the Senate Administrations for Urban Development and Transport back together. Currently there are two different senate administrations with different political leadership (editor’s note: Green Transport Senator Regine Günther and Left Senator for Urban Development Sebastian Scheel), which hinders many projects. If the SPD becomes the strongest force, that will change.

To ensure that cyclists are safer in Berlin, we have to take structural precautions above all. You should create cycle paths – where possible – next to the pedestrian path and use stationary traffic, i.e. parked cars, as a barrier between cyclists and moving traffic. Above all, the cycle paths must be clearly marked everywhere. Pop-up bike paths alone are not enough in the long run.

The education sector, which has been in the hands of the SPD for 25 years, is also repeatedly criticized. Berlin spends most of its money on education, but always comes in the back of the list in nationwide tests. What’s wrong?

First of all, you should look at what we have achieved in Berlin. Unlike in almost all other federal states, there are daycare centers that are open until 6 p.m. and not just three times a week. We have free daycare and school lunches and the free school ticket for all children. Teachers who work in difficult situations receive a focus allowance, while schools receive additional material and staff. All-day care is also normal in Berlin. In other parts of Germany this is not at all taken for granted.

Nevertheless, there are still construction sites that are also related to the fact that we have very difficult social situations in the city. The deficits in the educational biographies are partly passed on from generation to generation. That is why all-day care and school social work are so important. Here, what parents cannot afford can be absorbed.

The main challenges of the future lie with staff, in the school building campaign and in digitization. We want to attract, train and keep enough well-qualified teachers. A lot has happened in recent years with the renovation, the construction of schools and also with digitization. This must be built on, also with regard to the digital skills of teachers. 

Berlin teachers are already heavily burdened. Many migrate to other federal states because they are better paid there. Why doesn’t the capital civilize its teachers?

One of the reasons for this is that the Greens and the Left Party were strictly against it. That was not to unite in the coalition. That’s why I’m surprised that the Greens are now saying, shortly before the election, that civil servants are now conceivable in an emergency. The position of the SPD is clear: Berlin is not an island and we have to be competitive compared to the other federal states. 15 federal states officiated their teachers. I can’t say I’m not interested in that. For me that means: We have to make civil servations possible.

They want the best schools with the best teachers in socially disadvantaged areas. How do you intend to attract highly qualified teachers for the focus schools?

On the one hand, there is the focal point allowance, i.e. better pay for teachers who work in these difficult situations. On the other hand, schools must be particularly well equipped and renovated in order to create good working conditions for teachers and good learning conditions for pupils. Working in a focus school is not for everyone, but I have already met many teachers who have found their calling here.

Which construction sites would you tackle first if you were to become Berlin’s Governing Mayor?

We have to get the housing problem under control. To do this, we need an alliance for new residential construction, as Hamburg did. Together we must succeed in creating 200,000 new apartments over the next ten years.

I also want to strengthen the economic sectors that are particularly affected by the restrictions caused by the pandemic with our “Neustart Berlin” program for the future. This applies to the hotel and catering industries, retail trade, trade fair, congress and event management and culture. These industries will also be very dependent on our support in the years to come.

We have to push ahead with the expansion of the subway at the beginning of the legislature. And it is important to me that we give young people in Berlin professional prospects after the pandemic. That is why I am campaigning for a training place guarantee.

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