Interview with Manuela Schwesig

Minister President of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

“Research has already achieved great things”

She believes renewable energy can make her region more attractive to the industry sector.

Manuela Schwesig, Minister President of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
© Gabo/Bild-Zeitung
Staying cool in Kühlungsborn (Baltic Sea): Manuela Schwesig, 47, has secured her second term as Minister President — with the SPD’s second-best election results in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in history.

It feels as though we’re stuck in a loop. From the first to the fourth wave of the virus and from lockdown to the government’s “emergency brake” measures, everything seems to be on repeat. Ms. Schwesig, do you think Germany is capable of learning?

Manuela Schwesig: We are still dealing with a dangerous virus. So unfortunately, we have to implement special protective measures to combat the coronavirus this winter as well. Certainly, some things should have been handled better in recent months. For instance, we should have picked up the pace for booster shots sooner, since vaccination offers the only route out of the pandemic, in my opinion. But I don’t believe there’s anything we could have learned from the past waves of infection that would have allowed us to get through this winter without any cases of or worries about the coronavirus.


At the beginning of the year, we had a shortage of vaccines. Now, toward the end of 2021, we have a shortage of public willingness to get vaccinated. Why does it seem to be so difficult for some people to trust research?

The vast majority of people have done every­thing they could to contain the pandemic. They followed the coronavirus regulations and got vaccinated as soon as they could. Frankly speaking, I have little understanding for the people who can get vaccinated, but haven’t done it yet. The facts convey a clear message. The rate of coronavirus infections among the unvaccinated is significantly higher, and the danger of serious illness is much greater too. It’s hard to explain why some people ignore these facts. What is completely unacceptable are the verbal attacks on the very scientists who have been advising us to the best of their abilities for almost two years now.

What do you want from research?

I think that research has already achieved great things in terms of the coronavirus. Developing more effective and safer vaccines in less than a year is a huge accomplishment and our most powerful weapon against the pandemic. Another important area is the development of medications that are effective against corona­virus.

You once said that contrary to the sta­tistical possibilities, you got cancer. Revealing this was a direct appeal to young people to get vaccinated. Did having the illness change you?

Yes, it did. I’m more humble, and more grateful. I now know the importance of family and friends, more than ever before. To this day, I’m still moved by the get-well wishes I received from members of the public. Our health is our greatest asset. I want to repeat my appeal: get vaccinated. Take responsibility for yourself, and for others.

Did your own experience of bodily infirmity teach you anything how the political system deals with illness?

I can only speak for myself here, of course – I received all the support that was possible, both in the hospital and the physical rehabilitation facility, and for that I am very grateful. So, of course, I am aware that our health system is good, but also that there’s room for improve­ment. Everyone has the right to expert treatment and excellent care, and we intend to keep cam­paigning to make this a reality.

“Involved at the grass-roots level” is how you described yourself and other Minister- Presidents during a talk show recently. In what ways does the perspective of a state politician differ from the federal, Berlin-based view?

In recent months, we have often had the impression that federal politics in Germany is too distant from the reality lived by most people. I’m optimistic that this is changing. No matter where I am, people talk to me and tell me about their concerns, whether big or small. Our citizen contact department receives many letters and emails from people describing their problems and making requests. These are all huge challenges.

Ms. Schwesig, you were once on your way to becoming an actor. In 1989, you auditioned for the leading role in the movie “Forbidden Love,” but got the supporting role. Did that hamper your ambitions?

No. I had a lot of fun with it at the time, and Julia Brendler, who played the main role, is a successful actress today.

As Minister President of Mecklen­burg-Vorpommern, a state with 1.8 million inhabitants, you’re now playing a supporting role on the political stage. Isn’t it time to start thinking about the federal level? The weekly newspaper Die Zeit has been marveling at the “Schwesig phenomenon” – at how going from the federal government to state politics has actually increased your success. Even the Frank­furter Allgemeine Zeitung, a newspaper that does not have the closest ties with the SPD, has lauded your electoral success, saying that this victory proves that you are qualified for greater things.

I am very happy to be Minister President of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and am delighted to be able to continue in this role following the state elections. And the articles that you’ve mentioned show that being Minister President is not a supporting role. I can represent the interests of our state in the German Federal Parliament at any time. And I will continue to do so, with conviction.

Let’s talk a little about federal politics all the same, and about the coalition agreement. The government aims to generate 80 percent of Germany’s power from renewable energy by 2030. Your state has a lot of land area and a lot of wind, but generates little wind energy. How are you going to get the wind turbines going in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern?

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is one of the trend­setters for renewable energy in Germany. We’re generating almost twice as much energy as we consume. Our new state government has set the goal of covering our entire energy demand using renewable sources by 2035. For this to happen, we need to expand the renewable energy sector further. We’re focusing on off­shore wind energy in particular. I see two major opportunities in the expansion of renewable energy, combined with the development of a hydrogen economy. Firstly, this will allow us to help protect the climate, and secondly it will open up new opportunities in the industry sector. Industry in Germany needs to become more climate-friendly. Locations that can provide power from renewable resources and modern storage technology will be the ones at an advantage.

Almost a quarter of the people in your state are over 65. Is the digital transformation a stumbling block or a solution?

I strongly feel that every home should have fast internet, right down to the smallest cottage. We need fast internet right across the board: not only for companies and creatives, but for families and our older citizens too. Special interest groups and the state government are heavily involved in advancing the media skills of seniors in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. We shouldn’t understand estimate our older gener­ations here either. A good example of the work being done here is the federal project regional digital transformation, Smarte.Land.Regionen, which calls on citizens from certain rural districts, including Vorpommern-Greifswald within our own state, to put forward ideas. There are many domains with great relevance for the future, where expanding digital services can improve the quality of life in rural areas.

How can science help drive digital transformation in your state?

All in all, I think the way that the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is getting involved in digital trans­formation in our beautiful state is fantastic.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD in Rostock is supporting com­panies through its research and development work, particularly in terms of software solu­tions for the maritime industry, the mechanical and plant engineering sector and information and communication technology. It also forms part of the interdisciplinary Fraunhofer-Ge­sellschaft research group Smart Ocean Tech­nologies, which develops pioneering marine technology and new solutions for utilizing the sea in a more sustainable way at its location in Rostock. I’m very excited by the plan for a Digital Ocean Lab, an underwater test site near the coastline where materials, modules and entire underwater systems will be tested, evaluated and optimized in a real-world setting. But researchers in Rostock are also looking toward the future of agriculture. The Fraunhofer Center for Biogenic Value Creation and Smart Farming is focused on developing innovative technology and methods for agri­cultural operations.

People often complain about the amount of empty space in Mecklenburg- Vorpommern. But let’s take a moment to celebrate it. When you want to get away from it all during the winter months, where is your favorite place to go?

I have lots of favorite places. I enjoy going to Schwerin with my family. A walk around the Pfaffenteich lake is great whenever I have the time. And I also love the little island the Hiddensee.