When they forged North Rhine-Westphalia's first black-green coalition in the summer, the CDU and the Greens reached for the stars: the state of 18 million inhabitants should become more ecological, social, fairer and economically more successful.
Around 100 days later, however, there is a hangover instead of a mood of optimism even in parts of their own base. The consequences of the war against Ukraine with gas shortages and drastic price increases for energy and food restrict the scope of the new state government, which took office with great promises.
"One thing is clear: the consequences of the war in Ukraine pose major challenges for public budgets," confirms Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst (CDU). "It is now our most important task to help people so that they can still afford normal life despite price increases," says the 47-year-old head of government at the German Press Agency in Düsseldorf. The coalition is still working "with all its might" on its goals.
On around 150 pages, the coalition agreement announced, among other things, another year of childcare free of charge, free meals for the little ones, help with old debts for the many cash-strapped municipalities and the full-bodied announcement: "We are making North Rhine-Westphalia the first climate-neutral industrial region in Europe." A boost is expected from the relatively young head of government with Wüst and his Greens deputy Mona Neubaur (45) in the industrialized country, which has also been shaken by delayed structural change.
"Now it's a matter of acting quickly, pragmatically and free of ideology," says Neubaur, summing up the challenge. But the multiple crisis situation with inflation, uncertain corona development and enormous costs of the billion-euro relief packages from the federal and state governments brought NRW Finance Minister Marcus Optendrenk (CDU) to the sober conclusion shortly after the black-green start that the room for maneuver for your own projects was momentary "low to zero".
The Green Youth were "sustained shocked" by this announcement, admits state spokeswoman Nicola Dechant. The financing of the black-green projects is not secured. "If you comply with the debt brake, investments in climate protection, schools or social projects are not possible." That's why she has to go. In the crisis, the government's priority is to ensure that there are no power and gas cuts, that rents do not rise and that the public utilities are maintained
prevent economic disruption
"It is now important to make politics for those who keep the shop running," emphasizes Wüst. For him, declaring a disruption in the macroeconomic balance in order to release the debt brake is not a panacea. "We agree with the federal and state governments that we should now do everything we can to prevent this disruption of economic power. That is now the most important thing in order to preserve jobs and thus protect prosperity and social security."
Small advances are now at least anchored in an addendum to the 2022 budget: adjustment of teachers' starting salaries, a 200 million pot for climate investments by industry, more staff for security, disaster control and the energy transition. From the point of view of Wüst's ex-coalition partner FDP, with whom he had previously ruled as successor to Armin Laschet (CDU) since October 2021, black-green just "interrupted the journey in the darkened rest compartment" shortly before their 100-day deadline Parliamentary faction leader Henning Höne etches.
A kind of "non-governmental organization"
Opposition leader Thomas Kutschaty (SPD) made similarly venomous remarks about the new government's "state of shock". There is neither an initiative for a separate support package nor an idea to deal with the shortage of teachers, he tells the dpa. The SPD state leader misses speed in the expansion of renewable energies and a key decision on the future of the Rhenish Revier. "Black-Green is currently one thing above all: a non-governmental organization."
But one thing has to be said about the new black-green alliance: the former political opponents have so far appeared supple and harmonious to the outside world. "Humanly and thematically, it fits together and has potential," says Wüst about his new coalition. "Something is growing there".
Neubaur also sees the political partnership as having a solid foundation. "We trust each other and know the value of collegial and resilient cooperation," says the economics minister at the dpa. "Where there used to be a culture war, both sides are now looking for consensus." That is a good development.
Between 1995 and 2005, the Greens in North Rhine-Westphalia entered into real "dispute coalitions" with the SPD. From Neubaur's point of view, things are going differently with Wüst: "For us it's not about the quick pose, but about reliability, attitude and long-term solutions."
The Duisburg political scientist Karl-Rudolf Korte also states: "The major challenges initially lead to a strengthening of cohesion." Since a major crisis in the winter of war had to be overcome, none of the partners tried to assert individual party-political interests.
Nevertheless, the scientist sees the coalition in "waiting mode". But this situation affects everyone in the crisis: "Somehow everyone is waiting for everyone else. They are waiting for Berlin, for European opportunities. Everyone is waiting at the mailbox for their own energy producer to report. That is the waiting mode we are in."
NRW coalition agreement