Pretending in front of the world that all this bickering doesn’t concern you – that requires full concentration. Hendrik Wust and Mona Neubaur, the black prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia and his green deputy, are making every effort this Wednesday morning to look down from the government bench as indifferently as possible into the plenary hall of the Düsseldorf state parliament. It’s budget debate, supposedly the most royal moment of any parliament. Apparently, both of them have made it their mission to simulate their disinterest in a highly alert manner.
Especially now that Thomas Kutschaty, the leader of the SPD parliamentary group, steps up to the microphone four or six meters to their left. Wüst and Neubaur immediately look for a distraction. The prime minister reaches for the black briefcase in front of him, from which he pulls out a piece of paper that he will study for the next five minutes. Neubaur, in turn, stares spellbound at her cell phone – every message on her smartphone, no matter how unimportant, should now be more important to her than the annoying Philippika from the opposition leader.
The hall rages. Only Wüst and Neubaur have no ear for it
Because it hits particularly hard this morning. Kutschaty complains that North Rhine-Westphalia’s coalition of the CDU and the Greens is “not capable of governing” in times of great need. Worse still, the black-green alliance that has been in power for just five months has now been “convicted of breaching the constitution”. The hall roared, SPD and FDP clapped thunderously, green and black MPs chanted indignant heckling. Did someone stop Wüst and Neubaur’s ears? He leafs through templates, she reads emails.
Sure, such gestures of parliamentary disregard are part of the political craft. The government pays nothing, not even attention, to the opposition. However, the black-green government duo in North Rhine-Westphalia takes this art of not listening to a higher level: Wüst and Neubaur not only ignore the speakers from the SPD and FDP with great effort. No, even your own finance minister.
Marcus Optendrenk is the name of the man who has been looking after the coffers in the West since the end of June. The North Rhine-Westphalian finance minister from the CDU is not a friend of big words. But is considered a solid financial expert and honest steward. This is exactly why nobody in Düsseldorf really believes that this long-standing employee of the financial bureaucracy is said to have come up with the extremely creative fundraising to finance the NRW government business, which wrecked Wüst and Neubaur this Wednesday.
Harmful for the image of the “father of the country”
Minister Optendrenk spoke right at the beginning of the debate. He is already presenting his second plan on how to lead the old industrial state of North Rhine-Westphalia through its energy and economic crisis. The first idea had failed miserably: simply take out more than four billion euros in credit for alleged corona aid measures and then hastily reallocate them to budget funds against the war crisis – that’s what he had State Court of Auditors brutally castigated as “unconstitutional”. and stopped.
A political disgrace. And it was so violent that Wüst’s confidants have been trying hard ever since to cover up any traces of the head of government being involved. The flop would have damaged Wüst’s self-portrayal as the father of the country at its core. He likes to award medals or plant trees – and otherwise hovers over the shallows of everyday politics.
And so it came about that the faithful Optendrenk, in a mournful black suit, was struggling at the lectern on Wednesday to spread the government plan for a “special fund” with five billion new debts for all kinds of state aid. He takes responsibility, also for the fact that the government has to declare an “emergency situation” for the new borrowing in order to relax the debt brake in NRW. Just at that moment, the Düsseldorfer experienced Parliament the first executive act of feigned indifference: Wüst and Neubaur whisper to each other so demonstratively, as if they were connected by much more than just a political coalition.
Optendrenk, a doctor of history, puts up with it – and then has to endure the sympathy of the opposition. The honorable “Herr Doctor Optendrenk” acted “probably with a bad conscience and probably on the instructions of the prime minister,” emphasizes SPD leader Kutschaty. He then slams, “But you did it anyway!” The word “booking tricks” is also mentioned in his speech. FDP parliamentary group leader Henning Höne, until May still a coalition partner of Wüst’s CDU, takes the same line: “political money laundering” was what the government was trying to do. Wüst keeps a straight face and reads his files.