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BERLIN – Germany took a big step towards a new government on Wednesday when the three negotiated parties – SPD, Greens and FDP – reached a preliminary agreement on a coalition program.
The 178-page document, the result of weeks of intense negotiations following the September parliamentary elections, outlines the would-be coalition’s positions on everything from minimum wages to armed drones, with a little weed as an encore.
It now goes back to the three parties for final approval (with the SPD and FDP this means a delegate vote at a party congress and with the Greens a member vote).
If the deal is approved, SPD leader Olaf Scholz is expected to be elected Chancellor by the Bundestag in the second week of December.
After 16 years of persistent politics under Angela Merkel, the so-called Ampelkoalition (an allusion to the party colors of the trio) has promised to renew Germany on a broad front by investing heavily in infrastructure, weaning the economy from fossil fuels and making the country more inclusive do.
On the issues that matter most to people outside Germany – be it Europe, transatlantic relations, or Germany’s attitude towards Russia and China – the agreement suggests that the world should expect more of them. The EU, the US and NATO all play a major role in the pact, but no more or less than one would expect from a country that tends to play all sides in its foreign policy.
Here are five takeaways from the agreement:
1. Don’t believe everything you read
Despite all the work that has gone into the coalition pact (sometimes the negotiators debated individual sentences for “hours”, said FDP leader Christian Lindner), it could best be described as an emerging document.
Waiting Chancellor Scholz described the agreement as the cornerstone for a “decade of investment” to transform Europe’s largest country into a social democratic, green country Wonderland. That certainly sounds ambitious, the only question is how they should pay for all of this. The commitments include reactivating Germany’s “debt brake” in 2023, ie a balanced budget law that will make it more difficult to borrow additional funds. Even if the parties have signaled that they will use the KfW state reconstruction loan to focus on creative accounting in order to achieve more fiscal leeway in the coming years, the coalition is unlikely to provide the funds it will need to achieve its spending targets break the bank.
So what about all that song and dance? The coalition agreement can best be imagined as a marketing prospectus with which the party leaders can sell the coalition to their bases, because without their vote there is no deal.
2. Culture and memory
One of the most striking features of the Traffic Light Coalition’s sales pitch is how much room they give to progressive concerns. The parties want to lower the voting age to 16 years, legalize cannabis and make it easier for foreigners not only to acquire German citizenship, but also to have dual citizenship. These are all red meat eaters for conservatives, especially the citizenship plan, which suggests Germany could soon return to the divisive migration debates sparked by the 2015 refugee crisis.
If that isn’t enough controversy, the parties have also decided to tackle the gender identity minefield. The chapter on “queer life” of the pact is almost three times as long as the chapter on Jews, which raised eyebrows in some places in view of the recent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Germany.
3. Not everything that glitters is green
Given the central role of the Greens in the proposed coalition, it is not surprising that climate policy is a dominant issue. What is surprising, however, is how unrealistic some of the goals are. The parties announced that they would cease burning coal by 2030 and promised to increase the share of renewable energies in Germany’s electricity supply to 80 percent that same year. Renewable energies currently only make up 35 percent of electricity generation. Since the country is supposed to shut down its last nuclear power plant in 2022, the new goals are extremely ambitious – all the more when you consider that the price of natural gas (the only non-renewable alternative solution) is rising sharply.
Remember, Germany’s renewable energies have already given the country some of the highest electricity prices in Europe. With inflation already rising and the working population complaining about their heating bills, an accelerated coal phase-out could soon prove politically untenable.
4. Beware of the Federal Council
The Bundesrat is Germany’s upper chamber, in which the 16 federal states have a say in important laws. Without it, the traffic light agenda is nothing more than a pipe dream. The problem is that the three parties don’t have anywhere near a majority there, which means that they need the consent of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) for all major projects. The CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, belong together to 10 of the 16 state governments and thus have considerable influence on the agenda of the governing coalition.
5. The unknown unknowns
If Merkel has taught anything from her successor’s term of office, it is that nothing is going according to plan in modern German politics. None of the topics that dominated Merkel’s tenure, be it the banking crisis of 2008, the European debt crisis, refugees or the pandemic, was not mentioned in any of the carefully prepared coalition agreements. There is little reason to believe that Scholz will be any more lucky.
And as with Merkel, he is not judged on how many chapters of the coalition agreement he has passed, but on his leadership, if that crap hits the fan.