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BERLIN – Germany took a big step towards forming a new government on Wednesday as the three parties engaged in talks – the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) – managed to agreement in principle on a coalition program.
The 178-page document, the result of weeks of intense negotiations after the national elections in September, outlines the future coalition’s positions on everything from minimum wage to armed drones, with a little weed mixed in for good measure.
It is now up to the three parties for final approval (for the SPD and FDP, this involves a vote of delegates at a party congress and for the Greens, a membership ballot).
If the deal is approved, the SPD’s Olaf Scholz is expected to be elected chancellor by the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, in the second week of December.
After 16 years of stable politics under Angela Merkel, the so-called traffic light coalition (a reference to the trio’s party colors) has promised to renew Germany in all areas by investing heavily in infrastructure, weaning the saving fossil fuels and making the country more inclusive.
On the issues that matter most to people outside of Germany – whether it’s Europe, transatlantic relations, or Germany’s stance towards Russia and China – the agreement suggests the world should s ‘expect more of the same. The EU, US and NATO all play a key role in the pact, but no more and no less than one would expect from a country which in its foreign policy tends to play all sides of every problem.
Here are five takeaways from the deal:
1. Don’t believe everything you read
Despite all the work that went into the Coalition Pact (in some cases negotiators spent “hours” debating isolated sentences, said FDP leader Christian Lindner), it could best be described as a document. ambitious.
Pending Chancellor Scholz described the deal as the cornerstone of a ‘decade of investments’ to transform Europe’s largest country into a social democratic and green country Wonderland. It certainly sounds ambitious, the only question is how they are going to pay for it all. Among the commitments is that of reactivating Germany’s “debt brake” in 2023, that is to say a budget balance law which makes additional borrowing difficult. Although parties have indicated that they will rely on creative accounting with the help of state reconstruction lender KfW to gain more fiscal leeway in the years to come, this is unlikely to provide. give the coalition the kind of resources it will need to meet its spending goals without breaking the bank.
So what are all these songs and dances? The best way to look at the coalition deal is like a marketing flyer that party leaders can use to 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 the space it devotes to progressive causes. Parties say they want to lower the voting age to 16, legalize cannabis and allow foreigners not only to become German, but to have dual citizenship. These are all red meat issues for the Tories, especially the citizenship plan, suggesting that Germany may soon see a return to the controversial migration debates sparked by the refugee crisis in 2015.
If this is not enough to be controversial, the parties also resolved to tackle the minefield of gender identity. The pact’s chapter on “queer life” is nearly three times as long as the section on Jews, a fact that has raised eyebrows in some quarters given the recent upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks in Germany.
3. All that glitters is not green
Given the central role of the Greens in the proposed coalition, it is not surprising that climate policy is a dominant theme. What is surprising, however, is how unrealistic some goals are. The parties have said they will seek to stop burning coal by 2030 and have pledged to increase the contribution of renewables to Germany’s electricity supply to 80% by the same year. Renewable energies currently only represent 35% of electricity production. With the country due to shut down its last nuclear power plant in 2022, the new targets are extremely ambitious, especially since the price of natural gas (the only non-renewable downturn) is soaring.
Keep in mind that Germany’s renewable energy push has already left the country with some of the highest electricity prices in Europe. With inflation already rising and workers complaining about their heating bills, the acceleration of the coal withdrawal may soon prove politically untenable.
4. Beware of the Bundesrat
The Bundesrat is Germany’s federal upper house, where the 16 states have a say in important laws. Without it, the traffic light program is nothing more than a pipe dream. The problem is that the three parties have nothing close to a majority, which means they will need the support of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) on all their big projects. Together, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, belong to 10 of the 16 regional governments, giving them considerable influence on the agenda of the ruling coalition.
5. The unknown unknowns
If there’s one thing Merkel’s tenure should have taught her successor, it’s that in modern German politics nothing is going as planned. None of the issues that dominated Merkel’s tenure, be it the 2008 banking crisis, the European debt crisis, the refugees or the pandemic, were mentioned in any of the carefully prepared coalition deals. There is little reason to believe that Scholz will be luckier.
And as with Merkel, he will be judged not on the number of chapters of the coalition agreement he managed to push through, but on his leadership when the Scheiße hits the fan.