This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days. Afterwards it will only be available to read at Like stern, Capital belongs to RTL Deutschland.

Mr. Strasser, what annoys you most about the bureaucracy? The fact that you need a form for every process that takes place here in the German Bundestag. I’m not allowed to hang a picture myself, but have to fill out an application form for someone to come and hang a picture.

Your job is to reduce bureaucracy. How is it going? I would say: better than expected. When I took on this task, I didn’t jump around the office with joy. The record of previous governments on this issue was not outstanding, despite all their efforts. So we didn’t start running straight away. We first changed our method: In the past, only the government spoke to itself about where it wanted to reduce bureaucracy. For the first time, we are including those affected. The federal government specifically asked associations: From a practical perspective, where should unnecessary bureaucracy be reduced? The result showed that we had hit a nerve here: within a few weeks, 442 suggestions were submitted, which we then evaluated and weighted with the Federal Statistical Office. We have already implemented or are currently implementing 115 of them, and more than 60 are still being examined. This shows that we take seriously what practice has shown us.

What exactly should be abolished? For example, we have raised the monetary thresholds for the company size classes in accounting.

By this they mean that certain financial indicators decide which legal requirements must be observed when accounting. Exactly. I was just at a company in Ludwigsburg last week. This is a real relief for them with over 100 employees. We are relieving the burden on a total of almost 50,000 companies throughout Germany. For each company, this is an average of around 12,500 euros in relief and 105.65 hours less paperwork per year. This shows that this change in method means that the reduction in bureaucracy is actually being felt more strongly in people’s everyday lives than before.

Many companies that you ask about this tend to say: Even if something is being reduced on one side, something new is being added on the other. I understand the skepticism because there have been big announcements in the past and then too little or nothing at all happens is. But the truth is also: There is no magic wand against bureaucracy. There will not be one law that will remove bureaucracy once and for all. Reducing bureaucracy is a constant process. We have now completed the first kilometers. What we decided in the cabinet in recent months and also on Wednesday this week will only be felt in the coming months. The Meseberg de-bureaucratization package from the summer alone relieves people in Germany by three billion euros every year – that is three times as much as the largest package ever put together in the history of German bureaucracy reduction.

But it’s not enough. That’s why we’re thinking ahead. For example, we look at digital employment contracts and procurement law. We urgently need to take care of the electronic certificate of incapacity for work. Incidentally, this was a proposal from the Grand Coalition’s last bureaucracy relief law. In practice, however, it does not lead to less bureaucracy, but to more, because the structures of health insurance companies in Germany have not been taken into account. We urgently need to fix this. Many further steps are therefore necessary.

You have to concern yourself with minute details. Does it annoy you that you don’t even have one big success to announce? Of course it would be better if there was a button that you just had to press. And then everyone in Germany says: Great, now we have 20 years of peace. But that is unrealistic. Bureaucracy plays a role at different levels. On the one hand, it’s about the image of humanity. If I trust the citizens and believe in the power of the individual, I will make laws differently than if I assume that the first thought of the Germans when they get up is how they can deceive the state next. If I trust people to regulate things in their everyday lives – also in the interest of the community – then I need less regulation. But obviously not all political leaders have this worldview, otherwise some laws and regulations would not exist. But it’s also about which levels you address: the federal government can’t regulate everything on its own. The states also have to be taken along, especially when it comes to enforcing the laws. We are also the first federal government to involve the EU in reducing bureaucracy. We no longer want to accept this excuse: “If everything comes from Brussels, we can’t do anything about it.” That’s not true: As the federal government, we are involved in the legislation in Brussels.

Even within the traffic lights, you find it difficult to agree on regulations that you want to dismantle. How is this supposed to work in the EU? We have started a relief initiative with France and are now actively looking for partners in Europe so that after the European elections the new Commission can reduce bureaucracy at the European level.

Most recently, the federal government prevented, among other things, the European Supply Chain Act due to the rejection of the FDP, for which you are also a member of parliament. This is also a necessary consequence: we are counteracting our national efforts to reduce bureaucracy if we simply wave through bureaucracy monsters at the European level. That doesn’t mean that I’m critical of Europe. I think it’s more pro-European to be actively involved in the legislative process.

In the answers to the association survey, it is noticeable that it is not so easy to see what is still a reduction in bureaucracy and where one simply wants to abolish rights. For example, it is proposed to weaken maternity leave and make working hours more flexible. You have to make a clear distinction: What is actually a reduction in bureaucracy and what is being demanded for other reasons? But working hours are a pretty good example. My claim: There is no law in Germany that is violated as often, consciously or unconsciously, as German working time law. This shows that the law in this form obviously no longer corresponds to the realities of people’s lives in Germany and needs to be reformed.

Now bureaucracy isn’t just bad. Rules are needed. Do you have a favorite bureaucratic rule? Translated, bureaucracy means “rule of the administration”. In a constitutional state, it is good that the administration makes decisions based on law and order. If it didn’t do that, we would live in an arbitrary state where it depends on the individual civil servant whether you receive a certain state benefit or not. I think we can all agree that we don’t want that, but that there must be certain procedures and legal bases. In this respect, I am of course glad that there are rules in the road traffic regulations or in labor law. My goal is simply to get rid of excessive bureaucracy.

But where do you draw the line? What is perceived as excessive is a matter of interpretation. It becomes excessive where people no longer understand rules and where administration and politics themselves can no longer explain why these rules even exist. An example from a baker from Hesse: The trade association came into the bakery and said: The smooth tiles lying here pose a risk of accidents for the employees. If flour and water and dough residue land on it, you can slip. You need rough tiles so that nothing happens. So he installed rough tiles. Then a few weeks later the health department came and of course said: For God’s sake, if this flour dust gets stuck there and you can’t clean it properly, then it’ll get moldy. This is a health hazard for people who eat rolls. You need to install smooth tiles. This is forced illegality! No matter how you behave, what you are doing is not legal. This weakens trust in the state. The state cannot solve and take over all of life’s problems. He cannot establish justice in individual cases through laws.

What do you mean? We live in a society today in which there are very different lifestyles. It’s not the 1950s anymore. The core of the excessive bureaucracy that we experience today is that we have tried for far too long to write laws in such a way that they define every decision for the administrations and citizens down to the last detail and record every individual case. This can’t work. Not every individual case can or should be regulated by a law.

During the Corona pandemic, many things were implemented very quickly and unbureaucratically. For example, there were suddenly corona test centers everywhere. As it later turned out, many fraudsters took advantage of the unbureaucratic billing. Is the view of humanity that is based on trust perhaps simply not correct? I would disagree with the thesis that there was widespread fraud. But the crucial question is: If I over-regulate, will fraud no longer occur? Even in very strictly regulated areas, there will always be people who find ways to do this. I also have to ask myself who I am burdening with over-regulation. If I burden 99 people to prevent one case of fraud, that may not be the right approach from an economic point of view. If Corona has had something positive, it is that we have seen what is possible digitally. We have experienced a real surge in digitalization. We have also made many of these things permanent, such as video hearings in civil proceedings.

So do we simply have to accept that more errors will occur as a result of more general legislation? We definitely need a different error culture. How do we deal with mistakes among our friends, mistakes made by civil servants and politicians? We always immediately look for whoever is responsible for the problem. The problem is that this limits our courage to act. For an efficient administration, we need an administrative executive that is willing to make decisions. For many standards, the officials who decide on them have discretion. Why? Because we cannot regulate every single issue by law. On site we see too often that things are prevented when an idea is new or a little bolder. Of course, this has to do with fear of making mistakes. Then I would rather reject an application if in doubt instead of accommodating the request.

Mr. Strasser, last question: Could it be justifiable for members of the Bundestag to hang their own pictures in the office? Although I studied law and didn’t choose a technical career, I do believe that I could hammer two nails into the wall. Maybe we need to raise this as an idea in the Bundestag’s Council of Elders.