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Journalists watching the chancellor debate on September 12, 2021
Image: Omer Messinger/Getty Images

Fact-checking Germany's chancellor debate

Uta Steinwehr | Anwar Ashraf
September 13, 2021

Two weeks ahead of Germany's Bundestag election, the three chancellor candidates again sparred in a televised debate. Not all of their statements were accurate.


Money laundering

One of the most heated exchanges in the debate focused on the raid last week of the Finance Intelligence Unit (FIU) in Cologne. One of its purposes was to investigate suspicions of money laundering and financing of terrorism. Social Democrat chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz has previously profited from Christian Democrat chancellor candidate Armin Laschet's missteps, but came under fire for his current role as federal finance minister. 

In the debate Scholz said: "The investigation (...) has nothing to do with the ministries."

How do German elections work?

DW fact check: misleading.

The Osnabrück public prosecutor's office stated that it should be investigated "whether and, if so, to what extent the management and those responsible for the ministries as well as superior departments were involved in the decisions of the FIU."

Since the investigation is ongoing, it cannot be said whether ministries are involved or not. But Scholz is not being investigated directly.

However, Laschet continued to go on the offensive on the issue:

"By saying, 'Yes, there is some authority in Cologne,' you give the impression that you have nothing to do with it. You have the technical supervision over this authority."

DW fact check: wrong.

Robin Alexander, deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper Welt, pointed out on the talk show "Anne Will" following the debate that Scholz only has legal supervision, not technical supervision. This means that Scholz cannot instruct the authority to do anything. 

Wolfgang Schmidt, who works in the Federal Ministry of Finance and is considered a confidant of Scholz, argued the same point on Twitter. According to him, independence should ensure that there is no interference. 

The FIU's website states that the agency is "professionally independent in the core areas of its activities."

Green Party chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock stressed how great the damage done to Germany each year is by nonpayment of taxes.

"One of the biggest problems, also with regard to the national budget, is that the state loses around €50 billion a year through tax fraud, through money laundering, through criminal activities."

DW fact check: Correct

This is not the first time Baerbock has cited this figure in the election campaign.

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio in April 2019, Thomas Eigenthaler, chairperson of the German Tax Union, put the annual losses to the state from tax evasion at the €50 billion ($59 billion) mentioned by Baerbock. Through legal — but possibly morally questionable — tax tricks, that value could be double.

Economist Stefan Bach of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) recently told the ARD that €50 billion could be a low estimate of losses from various tax evasion practices, such as undeclared work and sales tax fraud.

Evolution of Germany's Greens

Climate change

Laschet said during an exchange about the climate crisis: "the fact is, we've known about world climate events since the nineties."

DW fact check: misleading.

Laschet's comments here were made in the context of how policymakers should respond to climate change and resulting extreme weather events. It remains somewhat unclear what he is specifically referring to. It is possible that he is referring to the major world climate conferences such as the Kyoto Protocol in the 1990s.

However, humanity has known for longer than just the last 30 years about the effects that rising average global temperatures can have on the Earth. The first world climate conference was held in 1979. Scientists and practitioners discussed how the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — caused by humans — could affect the climate. That same year, for example, the German national news program Tagesschau ran a report detailing the links between human activity and climate change.


In an exchange on pandemic mitgation measures, Baerbock stated: "The fact that it is still denied by the federal government that there is testing in the workplace... we require our children to be tested in schools two to three times a week, but it's not supposed to happen in the workplace. I just don't understand that."

DW fact check: misleading

It is correct that employees in Germany are not required to be tested regularly for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. However, since April 20 employers have been required to offer coronavirus testing twice a week — either in the form of a self-test or as a rapid test performed by trained personnel. However, employees are not required to accept that offer.

That regulation was last extended until November 24.

Christoph Gravemeyer and Angelika Gruber contributed to this report.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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