Martin Nebeling is President of the Association of Catholic Entrepreneurs. The controversial lawyer represents around 1,000 companies in Germany and applies what the church teaches to the economy, including when it comes to citizens’ money.

FOCUS online: Mr. Nebeling, you lead the Catholic entrepreneurs in Germany. This is probably not a sure-fire success. When you go to companies and want to convince them of your work – what are your arguments?

Martin Nebeling: We want value-oriented leadership to have value again. We represent Christian social teaching. For example, it asks us to weigh up our desire to help people in need and always leave them responsible for themselves.

What does that mean specifically?

Nebeling: For example: We don’t need citizen’s money that motivates people to think about whether it is nicer to receive citizen’s money than, for example, to cut asparagus. We forget the aspect of subsidiarity when it comes to citizens’ money. That means: We always have to ask: What can you as a human being do for yourself? And if, as a helper, I come to the conclusion that you need help due to a specific crisis situation that is usually manageable in time and ends again, I will be the last person to say that we shouldn’t do that.

That is solidarity.

Nebeling: Yes, but she always has subsidiarity as a counterpart. As a state, I must demand that people think about what skills they have, what they can do, and how they want to contribute to the community and get ahead in economic life. Anyone who doesn’t demand this is emphasizing solidarity far too much. That’s not how we Catholic entrepreneurs understand them.

Is the amount of the citizen’s benefit a lack of solidarity with those who pay it?

Nebeling: It’s clear that people who pay their taxes ask themselves: What happens to my money? Anyone who then sees that money is systematically taken from them and invested in such a way that others are not encouraged to take care of themselves will find this unfair.

Is this the position of the Association of Catholic Entrepreneurs?

Nebeling: Yes. Medium-sized companies feel responsible for their employees, but they also demand that they follow suit. This is positive entrepreneurship.

There are other issues that are discussed in politics based on values. For example, working hours. It’s about lifetime working time, but also weekly working time. What do Catholic entrepreneurs think about this?

Nebeling: When it comes to working life and pensions, we close our eyes to reality. I come from one of the baby boomers and 1.5 million people entered working life with me. Today there are 750,000. So if only half of the people enter the workforce, it is absolutely clear that there is a leak.

We can’t stop this by reducing the number of working hours. My father is 94 years old, he has been retired almost as long as he has worked. That means: In order to finance people like him, we have to work longer. In addition, the following often applies: those who work longer stay fit longer. It may not be in our best interest to retire early.

Why is the resistance of a political majority to extending working hours so great?

Nebeling: I’m not sure whether it’s a political majority. The SPD has lost its way. I experience black and white thinking: either the 40-hour week works or someone stays at home. But why can’t older people take on the tasks that they can still do well for 20 hours a week? We have to learn to acknowledge experiences.

Is the BKU automatically close to the CDU?

Nebeling: I think the CDU can spell out the social market economy better than the SPD. We have a clear demarcation decision between the AfD and the Left. But we are not a body of the Catholic Church or of the CDU. I also meet again and again with SPD representatives. However, we are more likely to be heard by the CDU.

Why the clear demarcation between left and right?

Nebeling: We don’t like their view of humanity. People are not seen as people. It bothers me when the GDR is not described as an unjust state. It really bothers me when Hitler’s atrocities are trivialized. I miss serious suggestions on how we can solve the big problems in the economy. For others, such as the Wagenknecht Party and the Values ​​Union, it is difficult to see exactly where they stand.

In doing so, they also turn against the voters of these parties.

Nebeling: I am not speaking against the voters, but rather against their voting decision. I believe it is the task of all democrats in Germany to win them back.

The AfD in particular is harping on the migration issue. Are we treating the people who come to Germany as migrants fairly?

Nebeling: We stand by the right to asylum. Anyone who is in a threatening situation needs asylum. It’s bad if we give them too much freedom not to integrate. I just met someone who has lived here for ten years and doesn’t speak a word of German. I also demand that Muslims, when they are here, engage with Christianity and Judaism. Believing that you can come to Germany, rely on the social system and not integrate – that won’t work.

Does Islam belong to Germany?

Nebeling: I would rather ask: Does Islam feel like it belongs to Germany? It’s about mutual tolerance.

Is the situation that migrants find themselves in here, with little living space and hardly any space in schools, social? Shouldn’t we accept fewer migrants in the first place?

Nebeling: We have to choose more: Anyone who essentially applies for economic asylum has no right to do so. We are far too slow in selecting those who are allowed to stay and those we send back. Why, for example, do more than half of the Ukrainians who fled there work in the Netherlands, but not even one in five work here? The length of processing time is also ultimately inhumane.

We are facing the European elections. It looks like an election campaign about war and peace. The SPD feels a boost when it emphasizes its reluctance to supply arms to Ukraine, while the CDU and FDP do the opposite. Where are the Catholic entrepreneurs?

Nebeling: I have a credibility problem with Olaf Scholz because he sometimes talks around one way and the other way around. These are purely strategic and not political reasons. I don’t have an answer from Scholz about what will happen if Ukraine doesn’t win this war. What does this trigger for Putin? I don’t want him to make any further territorial claims.

What do your entrepreneurs think about it?

Nebeling: Many companies would like to invest in Russia again. You need planning security. The increase in defense spending means there is a lack of money elsewhere. But the answer cannot be that we let Putin have his way.

The last election campaign focused on the climate crisis and sustainability. This is now only in second place. Rightly so?

Nebeling: Of course sustainability is an issue. Preserving creation is a task for us humans. But I don’t do it justice if I look at it ideologically. My impression is that the shutdown of the nuclear power plants was ideologically motivated but not really thought through. Or the current deposit bottle system. Before it was introduced by the Greens, there were more deposit bottles than there are now. I don’t have the willingness to admit that it wasn’t the best solution.

We are currently not particularly successful economically with our energy transition. How should we promote this internationally then?

Nebeling: That’s because we’re not organizing the transition in a market-based way. Politicians say: I will decide that combustion engines will be banned in 2035. I myself have no idea at all about technology, I would never presume to decide that and thereby deprive the industry of any flexibility. Nobody can say seriously today what the right path will be in 2035. Of course you can control and set guidelines, but I can’t understand stipulating a certain technique.

You have been in office since September – how is it going?

Nebeling: I don’t want to hide the fact that we tend to be a bit too old. And of course the word Catholic is not in vogue at the moment. You have to be careful with the Catholic language. The social market economy is the characteristic of our economy. She is absolutely correct. But even in the CDU Economic Council, of which I am a member, I experience that it is also forgotten there. I am all the more convinced that a strong voice is needed for Christian social teaching and for the market economy.

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