Bitcoin Talk with German MP Joana Cotar

Interviewer: Today we are speaking with Johanna Cotar. She is an independent member of the Bundestag (German Parliament), and we are talking about Bitcoin. Are you the only one in the Bundestag who finds or promotes this topic, or are there other MPs who are interested?

Joana Cotar: I am the only one who really promotes it. There are certainly other MPs who are aware of it. Frank Schäffler was someone who also advocated for Bitcoin. Since the FDP joined the government, that enthusiasm has diminished. Instead, the FDP has released a paper stating that they will positively support the introduction of the digital Euro.

They have a blockchain discussion group, and even there, the discussion revolves around the digital Euro, and Bitcoin is somewhat ignored. So, Schäffler tends to remain silent on Bitcoin, which I find extremely unfortunate. At the moment, there is no one who is really pushing it forward, but rather colleagues from the Greens or the CDU who suggest stricter regulation.

Interviewer: How did you first become interested in Bitcoin?

Joana Cotar: I first heard about it in 2013. My brother mentioned that there was an investment opportunity, something entirely new.

Interviewer: It could have been a huge investment opportunity.

Joana Cotar: Yes, I deeply regret not taking advantage of it. He invested a certain amount that he didn’t need, and if it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out. But he gave it a try and made a huge profit. Unfortunately, I missed out on it. For several years, I didn’t pay much attention to it. However, since I’m naturally interested in the concept of freedom, which is also why I’m in the Bundestag to defend it, I delved deeper into the Austrian School of Economics.

By chance, I stumbled upon Bitcoin videos on YouTube. There was an “aha” moment when I realized it could be a solution to many other problems. I didn’t approach it from a technical standpoint or claim to be an expert; rather, it was the underlying idea that intrigued me. I’ve long recognized that the monetary system is the root of many evils, but I didn’t know there could be a solution until I delved deeper into it.

Naturally, my office was initially quite crypto-friendly, although now it’s strictly Bitcoin-only. My staff encouraged me to explore it further, and as a fraktionslose (independent) MP, I now have the opportunity to bring it to the Bundestag and inform my colleagues about the positive aspects of Bitcoin.

Interviewer: That’s interesting. Your office was crypto-friendly even before you got involved?

Joana Cotar: Yes, they were already interested, but we hadn’t fully committed to Bitcoin-only yet. We saw cryptocurrency as an opportunity. For example, my office manager invested in Litecoin. DeFi was also a topic of interest for a while, but that faded quickly. Stephan Schmidt, who mainly organized yesterday’s event and initiated the Bitcoin initiative, is the Bitcoin maximalist in our office. It evolved naturally.

Interviewer: Fascinating. What particular aspects of Bitcoin convinced you?

Joana Cotar: There are several aspects. Most importantly, it’s censorship-resistant. The state cannot interfere and prevent me from sending a few satoshis to someone else, which we’ve seen happen in other contexts. During the trucker protests in Canada amid the vaccine mandate discussions, credit cards were blocked, accounts were frozen—everything was shut down to prevent them from financing themselves.

We see similar situations with human rights organizations fighting against oppressive regimes; they struggle to access funds. Bitcoin provides a means for them to finance their activities. That’s the most significant aspect for me. The idea behind it, to limit the power of politics, politicians, and central banks, is something that could solve many problems. If politicians couldn’t simply print money, it would be a game-changer.

Another important aspect, and the reason we’ve gone Bitcoin-only, is its decentralization. There’s no central authority that can flip a switch and change things, or succumb to external pressure to do so. Tomorrow, it will still be there. These positive attributes convinced me that Bitcoin is the way forward, rather than any alternative.

Interviewer: You initiated the non-partisan Bitcoin initiative in the Bundestag. Yesterday was the kick-off event. How do you think it went?

Joana Cotar: Well, very well. I was initially worried that no one would show up when I sent out the invitations, but the room was surprisingly full. What I found remarkable was that members from all parties, all factions, signed up. Most notably, there were many staffers present. It’s rare for MPs themselves to attend such events, especially on these topics, but some were there.

However, there were staffers from all factions, some of whom didn’t even register with their names. If Bitcoin isn’t viewed favorably in their factions, attending such an event and gathering information could lead to trouble, which highlights the absurdity of politics. Nevertheless, they attended and listened, and I hope they realized the positive impact Bitcoin could have.

We plan to organize more events, and I hope they become more open-minded and feel comfortable asking substantive questions. As you were there, you noticed that even those sitting in the back were from the Bundestag, yet they didn’t dare to move to the front row. It’s quite interesting, isn’t it?

Interviewer: Indeed. As an independent MP, do you have any advantages or face particular challenges when addressing such a topic in the Bundestag? Or, to put it differently, would it have been possible if you were a member of a party to raise and address this issue?

Joana Cotar: No, not publicly and not on such a scale. I brought it up within my faction, as I did with the proposal we’ve submitted, which other parties can adopt. I wanted to present it within my faction and say, “Look at this.” However, they weren’t interested. They view digitalization as inherently problematic, and that’s that. I didn’t stand a chance.

As an independent MP, I have both advantages and disadvantages, just as you could say that I address topics in the Bundestag that interest me. If you’re part of a faction, you’re a specialist in a particular area. For example, I was the spokesperson for digital policies and could only speak on digital topics.

Now, I can see what’s on the agenda of the German Bundestag, and then request speaking time from the Bundestag president. I requested time to discuss the digital Euro, and I said I would like to have some time to talk about Bitcoin, which wouldn’t have been possible within a faction.

Interviewer: You demanded in the draft proposal that we speak out against the introduction of the digital Euro, also considering the dangers of total surveillance, the possibility of programmability of CBDCs, and the risks of an integrated social credit system. The danger of severely restricting fundamental rights is highlighted. Is that not precisely the goal, or do politicians not have that in mind, and are they leading us, driven by the financial lobby, into a totalitarian system while sleepwalking?

Joana Cotar: No, that is indeed the goal. So far, nobody could explain to me what advantages the digital Euro should bring compared to the options we already have for payment. Not a single person has been able to do so. The ECB claims we need competition against foreign providers, credit card companies, PayPal, and so on. That’s not an argument. The only argument that makes sense is indeed that politics wants to make this surveillance possible.

Interviewer: Does it even make sense to list this as an argument in the proposal if they say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what we want’?

Joana Cotar: Well, there are colleagues in the German Bundestag who don’t see it that way. They see the ECB’s efforts to introduce a digital Euro, and they think, ‘It’s actually not bad if we also have it digitally in our wallets on our phones, and then we can pay like that.’ And they’re not dependent on Mastercard. And there are many who don’t believe that’s actually possible, and you really have to push them to see what risks are involved.

Another reason to mention something like this is, of course, that such a proposal will eventually become public, and people will come across it, putting pressure on politicians to explain why it can’t happen. Yes, and no one can convince me that it won’t happen, because if they say, ‘Yes, but the ECB promises not to do it,’ uh, the European Union, the European Commission, they’ve promised us everything and kept nothing.

So when politicians promise something, I don’t believe them. I’ve been in politics for 11 years now, about 7 years in the German Bundestag, and I don’t trust politicians. That’s just from experience. And when they say we’re not doing something, don’t worry, then I worry even more. And accordingly, all citizens should be worried and make sure that even if they introduce the digital Euro, as long as they’re not forced to use it, please don’t use it.

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s how it is for me now too, especially since Corona, I’ve become very critical, and my trust is at its lowest, I would say.

You gave a speech in the Bundestag about Bitcoin, which went totally viral, it was shared all over the world, your voice was translated into all sorts of languages using AI. Did you get any feedback internally that it was good that you did that, from MPs or staff, or did it spread around the Bundestag?

Joana Cotar: Well, nobody directly approached me, but for example, one of my staffers in the Bundestag, he talked to a staffer from the SPD, and at some point, the SPD guy asked, ‘Who are you actually?’ and then my staffer said, ‘I work in Cotar’s office,’ and then it came, ‘Ah, the one with the Bitcoin speech.’ So, the news really got around: Bitcoin is now a topic in the Bundestag, which is really positive. Especially the fact that Katrin Göring-Eckardt, as Vice President, pointed out my T-shirt, drew even more attention to it. It definitely had the effect I hoped for. Yes, it was really great. But it was also funny to hear myself speak Chinese or Indonesian.

Interviewer: Yes, it was really a fantastic speech. But there’s a tendency in Europe to stifle innovation in this area with ever stricter rules, somehow. Wallet self-custody is supposed to be prohibited, all transactions monitored, all addresses of self-custody wallets must be registered. Such developments exist. How do we manage to stop this development and not miss the train in the EU or in Germany?

Joana Cotar: Yes, so, whether we can achieve it completely, I don’t know, but we have to remain optimistic and try. That means what we are currently attempting is actually to educate the members of parliament, who often do not know that Bitcoin can have positive effects.

They only hear from their colleagues and the press about ‘money laundering, terrorism, harming the climate,’ and then they don’t have time to delve into it because there is so much else on their plate. And then it’s important to explain to them: ‘Look, you want the energy transition to work, look at Bitcoin mining, how can we use Bitcoin mining in energy production, how can we stabilize the power grids with it?

You want to have a proper development policy in the Third World, look at how much Bitcoin helps people in Africa who have no access to banks, etc.’ Human rights are important to you. See that women in Afghanistan use Bitcoin to organize themselves. Assange was also a topic in the media as the trial was ongoing. His family finances itself through Bitcoin.

We need to make this clear to the people and the politicians. Many don’t know this. Then they start thinking, saying: ‘Okay, is it really like I believe?’ And if this discussion is initiated in the factions, then that is already worth a lot. Whether it will ultimately be successful, I don’t know. What is important to me: We cannot do this alone in the Bundestag. The Bitcoin community needs to approach the politicians.

I hear this over and over again: Bitcoiners have no interest in politics, they don’t want to talk to politicians, they don’t vote anyway. That’s okay, I don’t have a problem with that either. But we have to confront the members of the Bundestag and the European Parliament with the fact that this is an issue for us.

So, make appointments in the Bundestag and constituency offices, go to the members of the Bundestag and ask them how they feel about Bitcoin, how they feel about banning wallets or forcing Apple and Google to remove them from their phones, so that it becomes clear to the members of the Bundestag that there are voters out there who have concerns. I can’t ignore this anymore. If many people do this, it will also have an impact, because it’s about reelection. And if a member of the Bundestag wants something, then reelection is certain. And so, you can actually make a difference.

Interviewer: It seems to me that politicians simply show their stance with little information. You have little time to familiarize yourself with a topic, yet you can confidently present your position on it. And as you mentioned, employees play a significant role in conveying this to the members of the Bundestag. They have significant power. Is that correct, or do they have a significant influence on the representatives?

Joana Cotar: Yes, they have influence because the deputies work together for hours, and the days and nights are long. In the Bundestag, we work together and consult on various topics. When we submit small inquiries or written questions to the federal government, and if employees bring up the topic of Bitcoin or other matters, then the members of parliament also gladly take it up if they see it helps them progress.

And that’s why it’s crucial because what you said is indeed correct. As MPs, we have little time to read up on all the topics we have in a session week. We have, I don’t know, how many proposals, 20, 30 proposals, laws, etc. On top of that, there are all the documents we have to read for the committee. There are EU documents, sometimes 300 to 400 pages in English, no chance. So, we pick the topics that concern us because we’re in the respective committee and rely on the faction’s policy experts for all other matters.

If the financial policy experts in a faction, for example, say Bitcoin is the devil, and I don’t have time to deal with it, and then when it comes to the vote, and the policy experts say, “You raise the red card against Bitcoin,” then the MPs go, get the red card, and vote against Bitcoin, okay? And that’s where I say, in the faction meeting, I want a few MPs to stand up and say, “Hold on a moment, it’s great that you have that opinion, but I have a different opinion because I’ve heard something else about Bitcoin.”

Interviewer: So, there’s sometimes little reflection, little thought given, and there’s also a lot of input from the finance lobby, from the banking lobby?

Joana Cotar: Yes, of course. The lobbyists are located around us in the Bundestag and sometimes have the badges to come and go in the Bundestag, schedule appointments, and have their main and business headquarters actually around the Bundestag, so they have short distances. It’s the same in Brussels; the influence of lobbyists is massive. And when they see they have advantages from something, then you can assume that we MPs receive emails, visits, appointments, invitations to breakfast, lunch, dinner.

That means, as an MP, when you’re out and about, you can basically go from one event to another during the session week and be fully catered for. It’s absurd what sometimes happens here.

Interviewer: You can save money, yeah, intense. So, in the draft proposal, you have a demand that the holding period be maintained until Bitcoin becomes an official means of payment. Does that mean you think, or you are determined to make that happen eventually?

Joana Cotar: Well, in the proposal, we also demanded that we need to look into legal possibilities to actually make Bitcoin a legal means of payment in Germany. Just take a look at what the requirements would be. That would already be a first step, to deal with it.

In the long run, we all hope that, I believe, we can achieve it. I don’t think it will ever be, well, “ever” is perhaps exaggerated, but I don’t think it can become the sole means of payment in any country in the near future. I would be happy if it exists parallel to fiat currencies, and if politics doesn’t put obstacles in our way. And that’s basically the goal we’re working towards. But it’s really a big goal; there are many, many small steps that need to be fulfilled in between, and yes, we’re allowed to dream.

Interviewer: Yes, absolutely. So, you’re really advocating for opposing the introduction of digital Euros and for the system to run in parallel to Bitcoin or Bitcoin parallel to the current system, so that cash is retained. If that were to happen, how would it develop? Would Bitcoin still eventually prevail?

Joana Cotar: I believe so, because people would then be more likely to engage with the topic. I see this now with the ETFs that have been approved. We had concerns about that too, like, now come BlackRock, now come the big financial institutions. It’s not all bad. On the other hand, it has generated publicity, and the media has reported on it, so people suddenly started to become interested in the topic.

I believe the same will happen when we say, as we also demanded in the proposal, to make it possible to pay taxes in Bitcoin, that people will then become curious and say, okay, if that’s already happening, then maybe I should look into the topic, and that it will then find more dissemination. And when people then engage with it, I haven’t seen anyone who started to engage with it and then said it’s all rubbish because everyone has realized there’s something to it, everyone has pulled out for themselves why it’s positive, and I think that will make a huge leap forward.

Interviewer: Yes, interesting. So, I sometimes wonder about politicians, they also have family and children and relatives and friends. If we steer into a system like that of CBDCs, you can see in China where that can lead or is already being done, linked to a social credit system, where funds can simply be blocked or money is programmable, so location-bound or product-bound or time-bound, don’t they also sometimes think, yes, I don’t want that for my family?

Joana Cotar: I don’t think they think that far. They don’t think. I’ve mentioned it too because even if they think it’s good because the government is great at the moment or the politicians believe what they’re doing is right, and the voters of the parties believe, I have nothing to hide, everything is fine, and they just want to do me good, you’re building a surveillance architecture here, and then the government changes, and suddenly those come to power that you didn’t want there, and they find this architecture ready and can use it from day one. Then all the politicians who support something like that suddenly also oppose it. All politicians from all parties should work towards ensuring that something like this is not established at all.

It’s great if a woman like Faeser now says, no one who makes any transfers to shady organizations should believe that it will go unnoticed. That means, all transfers are scanned, and if you donate to the AfD or any other organization that Faeser doesn’t like, then you’ll get in trouble. You can turn that around…

Interviewer: Who gets in trouble?

Joana Cotar: The one who transfers. For example, the Sparkasse has announced that it will no longer execute transfers to the AfD. Yes, and when it’s said that if you delegitimize the state or criticize the state, then the state must act quite strongly. And Frau Paus said, she knows very well, or the people who criticize the state know very well, what still falls under freedom of speech and what doesn’t, and they’re almost always on the edge of legality.

They want to change that, and then you see what kind of totalitarian system it leads to when they say they want to control everything you say, everything you do, your financial flows. And that can change, if the AfD comes to power. Yes, then maybe we’ll have an AfD government in 2025, and then they can use all that and say, now let’s turn the tables, let’s see which left-wing organizations there are. They can do the same.

Interviewer: And when they’re in power, they might think, oh, actually, not so bad after all, let’s keep it.

Joana Cotar: Exactly, let’s stick with that, because that’s a control of the citizens. And therefore, all parties, all sensible politicians, should say, under no circumstances should we do this. It can only go wrong, it can only lead to the conditions that we now have in China, which we really don’t want here.

But you heard Lauterbach during the corona time, where he said, all the measures we have introduced during the corona time, we can transfer one to one to climate protection.

This means, if cash is abolished, yes, and you only have the digital Euro, and then you want to book a flight, then they can tell you, yes, it’s not possible, because CO2 footprint. Or if a new lockdown comes and you want to go eat at a restaurant, which is a kilometer away from your house, then you can’t pay with it anymore. It all sounds dystopian, it all sounds like conspiracy theory, but how many conspiracy theories have come true in recent years?

Interviewer: Quite a lot, yes.

Joana Cotar: Yes. And I don’t want to take that risk.

Interviewer: Can you talk about this so openly because you’re party independent?

Joana Cotar: Yes, you can’t do it, believe me. If someone from the other parties were sitting here and talking so openly, they would be summoned to the faction leader’s office the next day to explain, this is not how it goes. This already happens in the Bundestag, if you say, we have a faction line, we vote like this and that, by name, and then one votes against the faction. They do it once, they do it twice, and then they have an appointment with the faction leader, with the deputy faction leader. And if they do it more often, it’s like, once again, and you won’t be on the list anymore and you’ll lose your job.

Interviewer: Yes, there was a lot of excitement when you recently attended a Berlin Bitcoin Meetup. As far as I understood, because you were once a member of the AfD. Meanwhile, you have left, and you are also very critical of the AfD. Bitcoin is actually apolitical. How do you deal with such events? Is it burdensome or does it not bother you?

Joana Cotar: I’ve been in politics too long for that to bother me anymore. I find it a shame because I’ve always perceived the Bitcoin space as a positive environment. Regardless of whether you’re right, left, up, or down, everyone is actually fighting for the same thing because they’ve all realized what the problem is and what the solution would be. And then, for the very first time, by the way, I’ve never experienced this before. I’ve been to some conferences, I’ve been to some meetings, and for the very first time, some leftists couldn’t handle it that I showed up.

I sat down at a table, drank beer, and talked to the people who wanted to talk to me. It is what it is; if you have no enemies, then apparently you’re not doing anything in life. And then you have a few. Then it’s good. I’ve noticed some are very obsessive. So, they compile entire dossiers about me, which, incidentally, reminded me massively of the AfD because in the AfD, I was the one who fought against the radical wing, against a Höcke wing. I always said we have to remove these people from the party because they’re ruining the party for us.

We were a completely different party in 2013, and accordingly, I was the hate figure for all those on the far right in the AfD. And even there, there was a 13-page PDF about Cotar, why Cotar is so terrible because she’s not radical enough and not right enough. And now there is, from the left side, from some Bitcoiners, a 13-page PDF about me, why I’m actually too radically right. It amuses me now.

Interviewer: It’s nice that it can amuse someone.

Joana Cotar: Yes, because I’ve experienced so much. I’ve experienced so much negativity in the AfD, so many campaigns against me, and also in politics in general, that I’m above it now. And I won’t let what we’re building here, and the opportunity we have, be ruined by some grumps who spend their time tracing all my tweets back to 2016 to dig up some quotes.

Interviewer: Some of these critics were also present at an event of yours yesterday. I partly heard about it. I believe, however, there were few who were very, very radical.

Joana Cotar: So, the feedback I receive, the overwhelming feedback, is incredibly positive. So, it’s really only a small group that fuels this, sometimes with false allegations. Yes, like the allegation that I want to be re-elected. People, I have no party. I also have no party that I could join right now to get re-elected there. I will be out of the Bundestag in a year and a half. So, who should I run for as an individual member of parliament? And all these false allegations, they are what they are, I find them unpleasant. Certain lies that come in. Some people apparently don’t realize that it’s also actionable. But let them do it.

Interviewer: Yes, absolutely. Yes, thank you very much for your time.

Joana Cotar: Very gladly. Thank you.