In recent days, some have called the cabinet led by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz the “clumsy coalition” of the European Union (EU). Among other things, the tripartite group, made up of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Greens and the liberal formation of the FDP, continues to be reproached for a lack of unity. These internal differences have generated tensions in the Government.
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In Berlin it is now time to debate the accounts of the state budget for 2024 and the FDP of the finance minister and head of the liberals, Christian Lindner, will not make it easy for environmentalists and social democrats. For Lindner, a ordoliberal nothing averse to cuts, there is no room for maneuver for public spending.
The Executive ministers, however, are asking Lindner for an added expense for the 2024 budget of about 70,000 million euros, according to the accounts presented at the beginning of last week by the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “We are in a difficult situation” and “we have a massive spending problem,” Lindner told German public television. ARD.
It is these liberal wickets that serve Lindner to also oppose this recent proposal by the European Commission to reform the rules relating to debt in the Union to grant greater flexibility to countries. “We need to return to stable and sustainable public finances,” Lindner said, pointing to the EU.
This young 44-year-old liberal politician and his FDP constitute one of the main sources of conflict in the Scholz Executive. The chancellor is someone, in principle, a friend of public spending.
When Scholz was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s last finance minister, at the height of the COVID pandemic, Germany accepted the idea of common EU borrowing to launch the Recovery Plan for Europe. Faced with the energy crisis and the inflation derived from the invasion of Ukraine, Scholz has come to use 200,000 million public euros to help homes and companies in his country.
Conflicts between ecologists and liberals
The heated debates between the liberals of the FDP and the Greens are also one of the main sources of tension in the coalition. Several issues distance liberals from environmentalists, such as nuclear power. Although the Greens agreed to extend the country’s three remaining active nuclear power plants for a limited time this year, which should have closed in December 2022, their goal is to end nuclear power in the future.
There are also members of the Greens who are accusing the liberal Volker Wissing, transport minister and staunch defender of the EU’s combustion engine of “indulging in illegality”. Brussels reached an agreement with Germany last weekend to end combustion cars by 2035. The ban on polluting cars was already agreed between the European Commission, governments and Parliament, but on March 2 Wissing blocked the extent.
“Wissing is slipping more and more into illegality if his Ministry does not once and for all take seriously the application of the climate laws,” said Stefan Gelbhaar, a green politician spokesman for the Greens for the issue of Transport in the Bundestag, criticizing the initial position of Wissing, who after the agreement declared: “Vehicles with internal combustion engines will be able to continue to be registered after 2035 if they refuel exclusively with fuels that are neutral in CO2 emissions.”
In the current budget debate for 2024, the Minister for the Family, the environmentalist Lisa Paus, has requested 12,000 million euros for its plan against child poverty. The proposal has once again faced its formation with the liberals, especially with Lindner, who intends to reduce that number.
Lindner also has to contend with aspirations to increase spending from the Defense Ministry, run by Social Democrat Boris Pistorius. The minister took office at the beginning of the year, when the defense minister until then, Christine Lambrecht, was forced to resign.
“A moment when Scholz’s coalition could break was when Lambrecht fell. Because, after his resignation, Scholz initially said that he wanted to maintain parity between men and women, ”he tells elDiario.es Nils Diederich, political scientist and professor at the Free University of Berlin. “Ultimately, Scholz chose Pistorius over parity in the Cabinet and no one has discussed this point again because everyone saw that a solution was needed,” he adds.
Diederich, a veteran analyst of German political reality, points out that the chancellor is not very interventionist and acts almost strictly as determined by the Basic Law of Germany, that is, granting independence to his ministers. “He lets his ministers work for him and then, on the other hand, Scholz leaves a lot of room for public discussion on the issues,” he notes.
“This gives the impression that the functioning of the German government is chaotic, but it is not. Because speaking is one thing and making decisions is another”, says the political scientist from the Free University of Berlin. Important decisions ultimately fall upon the responsibility of the chancellor.
“Scholz is calmly developing his policy. He does it despite the criticism and allowing the crossovers of statements by members of different parties to take place in the public debate, but this strategy is working for the chancellor, ”says Diederich.
An example of how this strategy works is how Scholz forced liberals and environmentalists to wait for the delivery of tanks to Ukraine, since both defended a rapid shipment of this military equipment.
Scholz was slow to make the shipping decision because, among other things, he wanted Washington to accompany Berlin in sending Western main battle tanks to Ukraine. And Scholz won that bet, as the Joe Biden Administration ended up announcing the shipment of American Abrams tanks.
In the polls, however, Scholz’s SPD has been trailing the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for months. The newspaper Bildthe most widely read in Germany, presented on its pages last week a survey in which the CDU would be the most voted party if general elections were held now.
Said poll gives the conservatives 28.5% of the vote, while the SPD is at 21.5%. The SPD, the Greens and the FDP would not achieve a majority in the bundestag.