Budget chaos: Lindner fires Gatzer - this expulsion can have bad consequences for the coalition

It sounds like warm words to say goodbye to a well-deserved employee.

Budget chaos: Lindner fires Gatzer - this expulsion can have bad consequences for the coalition

It sounds like warm words to say goodbye to a well-deserved employee. In the internal email in which Christian Lindner informed his ministry on Friday afternoon about the transfer of his State Secretary Werner Gatzer into temporary retirement at the end of the year, the Federal Finance Minister struck a friendly tone.

Gatzer “worked for the BMF and the federal budget with a high level of personal commitment and a lot of energy,” writes Lindner and continues: “Rhenish humor and a great sense of duty characterize him in equal measure. He has made outstanding contributions to our country.”

In fact, behind the flowery words there is a tough expulsion. In terms of content, this may be understandable: Werner Gatzer is considered to be the inventor of the accounting trick that was used to cushion the debt brake and which has now become the coalition's downfall at the Federal Constitutional Court.

But the truth is also: the decision to introduce the debt brake was a political one. Proposed by a Federalism Commission, which was headed by the SPD man Peter Struck and the then Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg Günther Oettinger (CDU). Enforced under a black-red government with a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag.

The expulsion is surprising in another way. Werner Gatzer was not only considered the gray eminence of financial policy, but also untouchable. In 2005, the then Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück made him State Secretary in the ministry. And he remained that way, among all the finance ministers who followed - regardless of their background. Apart from a very short interruption at the beginning of 2018. The new Finance Minister Olaf Scholz brought his party friend back to the ministry after just a month's absence.

All major financial policy decisions over almost two decades bear Gatzer's signature. His detailed knowledge is legendary, as is his reputation as a tough negotiator. At the same time, he was always loyal to his employer. This is also why all ministers stuck with him.

The fact that Lindner is now throwing him out seems like he has made a pawn sacrifice, but Gatzer is more than a pawn sacrifice. He is important, a central figure in the federal government, and his departure will likely be felt by the coalition.

But with Gatzer's expulsion, Lindner is also distracting himself. Shouldn't it actually be the finance minister himself who should answer for the mistake? The budget, which according to the Federal Constitutional Court is unconstitutional, falls within its jurisdiction.

But Lindner will pay a high price either way. From what we hear, he decided to expel him without consulting the Chancellor, who has lost a confidant in Gatzer. That won't improve the climate between Scholz and Lindner, between the SPD and the FDP. The fact that Gatzer should continue until the end of the year, even though his expulsion has long been confirmed, is just as selfish.

Gatzer was popular in the Ministry of Finance. The fact that the 65-year-old is rudely removed so shortly before retirement is not a good signal for the home.

But the most serious thing is that no one knows the household better than Gatzer. At a time when the government is desperately looking for budgetary solutions, throwing out the ministry official who knows the subject best could also have bitter consequences for Lindner.