Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Background Conversations for Die Zeit
Question: Mr. Chancellor, looking back after three years, is it a look back in anger for you?
Answer: No, it isn’t that, even if I must admit that I am smarter today. But among other things, that’s what life is for, to continue learning new things. If the experiences of these last three years had already been there in 1969, then presumably one thing or another might have worked out better.
Question: What are you thinking of in particular?
Answer: It has more to do with the methodology than with the substance of the policies, and also with the way of making oneself understood as regards the things that this government did differently than previous governments. It is also has to do with the teamwork that could not be developed sufficiently enough, especially in the first two years. To that extent, the next four years will be much easier, since one proceeds on the basis of the experiences of the first two years, both in the statement of policy and its practical implementation.
Question: Could one say that, to a certain extent, you would start the next four years with subdued euphoria? Is it possible to say that your methodology might perhaps be more systematic or planned, also more cautious, that maybe the mountain that has to be climbed should first be assessed more thoroughly? Or how would you describe this methodology, this changed methodology or your experience with the methodology?
Answer: Since you mentioned euphoria – I think I was free of euphoria, after all, who wants to be able to control one’s feelings entirely. Some things that go on around you also influence you, since no one is totally isolated from what’s going on. Nonetheless, what I mean to say is this: At the start of this administration – and it worked far into this legislative period – there was a huge discrepancy between what the government had recorded about its intentions in black and white and how others interpreted it. The government, however, was not without blame in this regard. First, some people in the government offered extensive explanations of what had been laid down as the declaration of common policies, which I subjectively cannot hold against these individuals. Everyone wants to expound. But sometimes it also strayed too far from what was actually in the policy statement. If you look at it again today, then it does not justify the critics who claim we took on too much. Please, an exception: In domestic policy, in contrast to foreign policy, it was not made clear enough to everyone which things we thought we could really finish up in these four years and which points just offered an approach to new areas, in which we did preliminary work. Now we’re back to the methodology. That is not something that one should hold against oneself; one should learn from it. I just said that that was made more clear as regards foreign policy, even as early as 1969. And that is true. But there, too, experience shows that it is not only about whether one knows for oneself how something should be done, how it has to be done so that it is solid enough, so all the bases are covered. If it is not possible to convey this to enough other people, then it doesn’t matter whether it really is well thought out with all the bases covered. And there we also learned that for a long time virtually all interest was focused on certain aspects of foreign policy and almost nothing else was given much attention. People often got the impression that the government was improvising or even just letting itself be carried along by things that came to us from the outside. In reality, that was not the case. But let me say again: It is important to know better than we knew then that that kind of impression can emerge, especially when entering uncharted waters, and that it is necessary to deal with these false impressions more systematically and also more patiently.