It is a new, severe setback for Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his federal government: Apparently they will not be able to finalize the budget for 2024 before the end of the year. The SPD parliamentary group leadership no longer believes a Bundestag resolution is possible this year. “Although we have done everything we can to achieve this, the budget for 2024 can no longer be decided on time this year,” wrote the parliamentary managing director of the largest coalition faction, Katja Mast, in a text message to her group coordinated with parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich .
In doing so, the traffic light government has torn down a goal that it set itself: “It would be nice, the goal would be, it would be wonderful to achieve it this year,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said at the end of November. The Union criticized Scholz for having lost control of his government. “From the chemical company to the house builder to the craftsman or recipient of citizens’ money: the uncertainty in the country is growing every day,” said parliamentary group vice-president Jens Spahn to the “Rheinische Post”.
Finance Minister Christian Lindner indicated on the sidelines of the EU finance ministers' meeting in Brussels that the FDP wanted to take more time. “I noticed that the coalition partners had very ambitious schedules,” he said.
Traffic light chief negotiators cannot find a solution
But nothing can happen without a political agreement to solve the budget crisis. The chief negotiators Scholz (SPD), Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens) and Lindner (FDP) are still wrestling with how a 17 billion euro hole in the budget for 2024 can be plugged. It was created, among other things, by the budget ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court.
The highest German court had declared a budget reshuffle to be null and void. This means that 60 billion euros are missing that were planned over four years for climate protection projects and the modernization of the economy. What will happen to these expenses is still completely unclear. But the judge's ruling also had an impact on other loan-financed special funds and thus, in a roundabout way, on the core budget.
The Bundestag should actually have passed the budget for 2024 last week. But after the verdict, the traffic light froze the process. Since then, Scholz, Lindner and Habeck have been discussing how to plug the billion dollar hole. The Chancellor is “confident that a result can be achieved in the coming days,” Mast wrote in the text message, which was first reported by the “Bild” newspaper.
How things could continue
However, the political agreement would probably not come in time to go through all parliamentary bodies before Christmas. Because the members of the Bundestag need time to discuss the traffic light proposals. The opposition in particular is likely to insist on this. The Constitutional Court is supporting you here. It was only in the summer that the Karlsruhe judges decided that laws could not be rushed through parliament.
Now it could result in only the Bundestag's budget committee completing its deliberations before the turn of the year. After a political agreement, he would probably interview experts again. Then the so-called adjustment meeting would have to be ended, with which the budget is basically tightened. In January, the Bundestag could meet for budget week and then the Federal Council could give the green light.
Lindner: Late decision, no crisis
Until then, the so-called provisional budget management would apply. Then, for the time being, only expenses that are necessary to maintain administration and fulfill legal obligations are possible. In practice, however, the Ministry of Finance can authorize ministries to use a percentage of the funds in the not yet approved draft budget each month.
This procedure usually also applies after a federal election if the new government is unable to draw up a budget in the short period between the formation of a coalition and the turn of the year. For Lindner, a late decision is therefore no drama: "The state is fully capable of acting: no authority will be closed. No salary will not be paid. No one who expects support will not receive it," he emphasized.
Voices for a quick agreement have not fallen silent
In the dispute over the budget, the Green parliamentary group believes it is important that a political agreement is reached very quickly, according to a spokeswoman for the group. If an agreement is reached, parliamentary deliberations could continue this year as far as possible. "There are requirements for parliamentary procedures that we must and want to meet. Particularly with regard to sufficient time for deliberation on bills. The people, business and companies in this country need planning and security."
SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert also continues to rely on a quick agreement - but not under every condition. “Our aim is to reach the common agreement before Christmas this year. But we will not make bad compromises that come at the expense of millions of employees, pensioners and the poorest in society,” said Kühnert on Thursday in Berlin. According to Kühnert, when it comes to the budget issue, the SPD is relying on both speed and a result that holds society together.
Little room for conversation before Sunday
Yesterday the chief negotiators discussed again until late in the evening. Today Lindner traveled to Brussels for important appointments. The SPD is also meeting tomorrow for its three-day federal party conference - Scholz is scheduled to speak there on Saturday. So there isn't much room for budget discussions before Sunday evening anyway.
Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) pleaded with the TV channel Welt for care. “But care is also very important here, because it is clear that everything that is agreed must be strictly checked for constitutional conformity,” he said.
What is particularly controversial is whether the traffic light coalition could suspend the debt brake again and thus approve billions in loans. For this to happen, an emergency situation would have to be declared, for example due to the war in Ukraine. Lindner is not yet convinced of this, also because he fears that the federal government will end up in court again. A lawsuit by the Union would be very likely.
Bartsch: Budget postponement “extremely embarrassing”
The left-wing politician Dietmar Bartsch sharply criticized the delays. This was “extremely embarrassing and a low point for the traffic lights,” Bartsch told the German Press Agency. “This federal government is already halfway through a dead end.”
Criticism also comes from the Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU chairman Markus Söder. The initially failed attempt at an agreement shows the “powerlessness of the coalition,” said Söder on Bayerischer Rundfunk. She would have had the duty to say now “what happens next in this situation.” The CSU chairman suggested reversing the heating law and saving citizens' money.
Frei writes a letter to Bas
The Union's parliamentary managing director, Thorsten Frei, directed his group's displeasure on the budget issue to Bundestag President Bärbel Bas. The coalition's approach so far has been characterized by lack of planning and stubbornness, it says in a letter to the SPD politician. "Even budget law, the royal law of parliament, is no longer spared from the chaos of traffic lights." The letter is available to the German Press Agency. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” had previously reported.
The way the government and the traffic light factions deal with the Bundestag is unacceptable, writes Frei. Today's budget deliberations in the committees were a new low point. Apparently the members of the coalition factions did not fully know what they were actually voting on. “Dear Madam President, it is urgent that you personally get involved in the events and call the federal government and the coalition factions to order,” demands Frei.