There is a lot of controversial content right now, but one thing is particularly important for Chancellor Olaf Scholz: his government has achieved a lot in the past few months - and it is continuing to tackle it. "We have a lot of plans to lead our country into the future," emphasized the SPD politician after day one of the cabinet meeting at Meseberg Castle. That involves a lot of changes. "And that's why it's completely normal for these many steps to be discussed very intensively."
There are intensive discussions between the SPD, Greens and FDP on a number of topics, from the expansion of the motorway to a ban on new oil and gas heating systems to the upcoming budget for 2024. Relaxed talks behind closed doors seem necessary, because a week and a half before an important one The mood in the cabinet is more tense than it has been for a long time. Get together, that could be the motto of the cabinet retreat that lasts until Monday. Real decisions, on the other hand, are only expected at a coalition committee at the end of March.
Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner was confident that the coalition would come to an agreement on controversial issues. "Don't worry about the coalition climate," said the FDP leader on ZDF's "heute journal". The coalition has many important issues to discuss and also needs time for this. "In the end there will be good solutions, I'm sure of that," emphasized Lindner. At the same time, the finance minister spoke of difficult budget discussions with his cabinet colleagues. Lindner said he has a responsibility to ensure that citizens are not overburdened by growing interest payments and higher taxes.
At the start of the exam, Scholz drew a positive interim conclusion about the government's work, despite the quarrels. "Together we (...) have safely led Germany through a major crisis in the face of a very great challenge associated with the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine," he said. The crisis may not have made itself felt for everyone "because it didn't happen. But it was ahead of us," emphasized Scholz. "Everything that some people predicted about us and our country last year didn't happen. And that's the achievement we're building on now."
There was therefore no trace of the problem topics on the official agenda for Sunday and Monday. With EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the group then spoke not only about "Economic prospects for Germany and Europe at a turning point in time", but also about a topic that Germany has recently made no friends with at EU level.
Germany and the EU are in a “constructive dialogue” on the controversial combustion engine exit, said von der Leyen. There is full support for the principle of openness to technology. "But that must always be in balance with our climate policy goals." That is exactly what is still being worked on. The EU vote on the planned end for new cars with combustion engines from 2035 was postponed on Friday due to additional demands from Germany. The FDP wants the EU Commission to submit a proposal on how climate-neutral, synthetic fuels, so-called e-fuels, can be used in combustion engines after 2035.
Household austerity round
Another reason for the irritable climate is that FDP leader Christian Lindner will present the key points for the budget for the coming year on March 15. As usual, his cabinet colleagues want more money than the finance minister is willing to give them. The additional requests should add up to 70 billion euros. Rising interest rates, the debt brake and the FDP's refusal to bolster income through tax increases limit the scope. At the same time, the new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) is to receive more money. Against this background, the Greens worry that there will not be enough left over for their projects.
Basic child security
The dispute over the basic child security agreed in the coalition agreement is about funds for 2025. The SPD, Greens and FDP have agreed that services from child benefit to child allowance and financial support for school trips should be bundled and better received by the beneficiaries. It is disputed whether this should also mean a multi-billion dollar financial increase.
Actually, the coalition had already agreed last year that from 2024, if possible, only new heating systems that are operated with 65 percent renewable energies may be installed. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has now made details of the plans public - and has drawn violent protests from the FDP. The liberals fear that the regulation for more climate protection will overwhelm many homeowners financially and drive up construction costs.
Whether motorways should be built faster is a constant dispute in the coalition. The FDP demands this and refers to the prognosis that freight traffic on the road will grow strongly in the long term. The Greens reject an acceleration and call for more commitment to the climate goals.
Scholz and Baerbock
Between Scholz and his foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, things are jerky when it comes to diplomacy. Many in the SPD do not like the fact that the Green politician often speaks plain language internationally - while Scholz prefers to regulate many things in back rooms. When Baerbock called on the Council of Europe for Western allies to stand together, she said: "We are fighting a war against Russia and not against each other." Scholz made it clear: "This is a war between Russia and Ukraine." The German strategy for dealing with China is also making little progress.
In the past year, one can concede that the traffic light was driven by acute crisis management. A few days before the closed meeting, however, Scholz made a government statement in the Bundestag that was no longer mainly characterized by arms deliveries, rescue packages and inflation concerns. A new phase could begin for the traffic light government, in which it is again more about the projects from the coalition agreement. Some of its members would like this to be accompanied by a return to the beginning of the collaboration, when contentious issues were primarily fought behind the scenes.