The new ruling coalition in Germany has put forward a much-needed vision for the country, but its realization will largely depend on the political skills of its party leaders. If the coalition fails, Germany risks reverting to its old habit of doing too little too late – an outcome that would jeopardize its position in Europe and the world.
BERLIN – After eight weeks of negotiations, Germany has a new government. For the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, who succeeds Angela Merkel as Chancellor, the long-awaited coalition agreement augurs nothing less than revitalization “Progressive mitteâOr progressive center – and a much bolder Germany.
The coalition agreement was drafted behind closed doors, with few leaks. But it’s safe to assume that forging it wasn’t an easy task. This is the first tripartite alliance at the national level since the 1950s, and the center-left Social Democrats, Greens and Free Liberal Democrats have many points of disagreement.
Meanwhile, Germany is once again struck by COVID-19 – the fourth wave of a pandemic that has been exacerbated by popular appeasement, administrative inefficiency and feuds between state governments and federal authorities. Add to that a darkening economic outlook and a looming migration crisis, and negotiators knew they would present the coalition deal to a weary and suspicious public.
And yet, remarkably, the party leaders produced a clearly promising document. This is clear in the title: Dare to Make More Progress – a clear allusion to Chancellor Willy Brandt’s speech in the Bundestag in 1969, in which he urged Germans to “dare more democracy”. But where exactly does the new German government hope to progress?
Domestically, several objectives emerge. Scholz’s government will seek to adopt a more flexible approach to the debt brake, which prohibits governments from borrowing excessively. He also promises to modernize the social security system, replacing the unpopular Hartz-IV unemployment and welfare program with a less strict regime. BÃ¼rgergeld (citizen’s allowance) which includes incentives for education and training. And he proposes to strengthen support systems for families with young children, increase the minimum wage to â¬ 12 ($ 13.50) per hour and allocate â¬ 1 billion for a one-time payment to reward healthcare workers for their efforts during the pandemic.
Major structural reforms are also on the agenda. These include phasing out coal and increasing the share of renewables from 45% to 80% by 2030; invest heavily in university-industry partnerships to encourage innovation and support startups; introduce significant tax incentives for companies investing in digital infrastructure and technologies; increase the share of women in technology; and rapidly digitize public administration. The coalition agreement also commits the new government to investing in neglected public transport and removing administrative barriers that slow down obtaining permits and approvals.
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Last but not least, the new German leaders are committed to overhauling the German immigration framework to make it easier to obtain citizenship or residence; work to make housing more affordable, in particular by developing public housing; and legalize the production, sale and consumption of cannabis.
Beyond the borders of Germany, the coalition agreement is fully and clearly committed to the European project. For example, it calls for the deepening of Economic and Monetary Union and signals greater flexibility in the management of the EMU Stability and Growth Pact. He also expresses his support for uniform European suffrage, with a binding principal candidate system (the Spitzenkandidaten process) for the selection of the President of the European Commission, and underlines the need to make it easier for the Commission to act when necessary – for example, to safeguard the rule of law in member countries.
Likewise, the coalition agreement also expresses a clear commitment to NATO, although it leaves open some questions, such as the government’s commitment to the defense spending target of 2% of GDP and nuclear weapons control issues.
The most notable foreign policy change concerns China and Russia. Apparently, the world should expect Germany’s new government to replace Merkel’s corporate-focused strategy with a more assertive approach to authoritarian regimes. The future of the controversial Nord Stream II pipeline, which would bring gas directly from Russia, bypassing Ukraine and Belarus, may well be at stake.
In Germany, the coalition agreement received a mixed reception, as one would expect. The relatives of the three coalition partners have mostly welcomed it, even if some on the margins of the parties have expressed greater disappointment, even mistrust. The Christian Democrats, preparing for their role as the main opposition party, severely criticized him, while the far right Alternative for Germany and the left Die Linke totally rejected it.
Surprisingly, however, German audiences have widely praised the deal – and the sense of hope and renewal that underpins it. Merkel was known for her ultra-cautious leadership style. In his 16 years as head of the German government, few reforms have been adopted – and even fewer have succeeded. Now the Germans seem ready for a more proactive government.
Of course, the coalition agreement is a political document, not a legal one. Nonetheless, it is very important, as it will guide the efforts of the Coalition Committee – an informal body made up of the main emissaries of the ruling parties, which has gained immense importance in recent decades.
The role of the coalition committee is to ensure the implementation of the agreements, in particular by managing any disputes and conflicts of interest that arise. And tensions are already appearing. For example, the emboldened environmental lobby deplores that, despite the participation of the Greens, the agreement is insufficient on climate policy, and the business lobby, represented by the Free Democrats, fears tax increases and doubts financial projections fuzziness underlying the agreement.
Moreover, an unlikely alliance of unions (demanding job security, higher wages and pensions) and businesses (applauding Scholz’s fiscal prudence) is wary of increased flexibility in EU fiscal policies. . Finally, as states back the new government’s promise of long-awaited reform of Germany’s complex federalist system, some fear a federal takeover.
The bottom line, however, is that the new ruling coalition in Germany has put forward a much-needed vision for the country. But whether he can achieve this will largely depend on the political skill of the coalition committee. If the coalition fails, Germany risks reverting to its old habit of doing too little too late – an outcome that would jeopardize its position in Europe and the world.