Cabinet retreat: Coalition cure in Meseberg: The stress test is yet to come

If this meeting of the federal government had an overarching goal, then it was this: to demonstrate as much harmony as possible.

Cabinet retreat: Coalition cure in Meseberg: The stress test is yet to come

If this meeting of the federal government had an overarching goal, then it was this: to demonstrate as much harmony as possible. "It will be a closed conference where there is a good atmosphere," Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at the beginning of Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, a quarter past 11, he marches elatedly side by side with Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens) and Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) the long way from the Meseberg Castle portal to the entrance to say one thing above all to the journalists waiting there: That with the Mood, that worked.

For Scholz and the 16 ministers of the traffic light coalition, the 25 hours together in the 18th-century baroque palace just outside Berlin were something like an urgently needed spa stay after a stressful time.

In the days before, the coalition's discipline, which had lasted for a long time despite the Ukraine war, gas shortages and inflation, had gotten pretty much out of joint. Beautiful words are not enough, substance is needed, warned the SPD Vice Chancellor Habeck. In return, one of his Green party friends criticized the "poor performance of the Federal Chancellor".

Actually, this coalition had planned to change some things in the political culture at the very beginning: no night meetings, no stabbing and, above all, no public hostilities. And now this again: polyphony in the debate about the relief measures, mutual finger pointing at the gas levy.

Beautiful pictures, good mood

The exam in Meseberg came at just the right time. Nice group pictures with top politicians in a good mood. Time for fundamental debates without time and decision pressure. A barbecue evening into the night. Cabinet members wrapped in blankets are said to have been sitting together in the castle garden at one o'clock.

So everything ok again? "In a way, they took the opportunity to hook up here again," says Scholz. All three partners praise the constructive atmosphere. But it's not that easy. The mood also remained good because the difficult questions were not discussed to the end.

The actual stress test is still ahead of the coalition. At the weekend, the third relief package due to skyrocketing prices is to be decided at a meeting of the coalition committee. The gas surcharge must be revised so that it is legally sound. And then there is still the question of whether the nuclear phase-out at the turn of the year will remain the same.

Gas levy: Habeck has defused the dispute

The gas surcharge was the trigger for the irritation before the exam. The fact that profitable companies could also receive these additional payments to support gas importers, which all gas users had to pay, caused a lot of resentment. Now Habeck has defused the dispute at the start of the exam and formulated conditions for the claim to the contribution. However, it has not yet been conclusively clarified whether these can also be implemented legally.

And time is pressing: Hundreds of thousands of consumers will be asked to pay as early as October 1st. Local suppliers pass on the levy of initially 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour to them - depending on consumption, there are additional annual costs of several hundred euros.

Nuclear power: Stress test should bring the decision

A stress test on the security of Germany's power supply should bring clarity as to whether the three remaining nuclear power plants will be shut down as planned at the turn of the year. Union representatives, together with FDP members, are calling for the continued operation of the nuclear power plants, pointing to high electricity prices and the expected use of fan heaters in winter. Critics argue that nuclear power can hardly reduce the consumption of scarce gas, especially since there are still plenty of legal and safety-related questions left unanswered.

The responsible Green Ministers Steffi Lemke (environment) and Habeck (economy) hold the cards with reference to the outstanding stress test results. Habeck makes it clear, however, that he, like many Greens, rejects an exit from the nuclear phase-out. However, it would also be conceivable to use stretching, i.e. the slightly longer use of existing fuel rods, which would at least not result in any new nuclear waste.

Third relief package: decision at the weekend?

This is probably the toughest thing the coalition has to deal with. The decision will probably be made at the weekend as to how the burden on citizens will be further relieved in view of the skyrocketing prices. Proposals from the coalition have been on display for weeks - usually in favor of their own constituency.

Will the tax inflation compensation sought by Lindner and his FDP come about? Are there one-off payments for pensioners and students, as the SPD imagines? And what about a 49-euro ticket for local transport, which the Greens, among others, are proposing?

At least it is now agreed that there should be another relief package. That sounded completely different a few weeks ago: Lindner emphasized that this year there was no more money for something like that. In the meantime, however, he has discovered scope in the single-digit billion range - among other things through higher tax revenues, as he says.

The total shows that the new package cannot be quite as extensive as the previous ones with a 9-euro ticket, fuel discount, 300-euro energy price flat rate and several tax breaks. Scholz announced "a very precise, very tailor-made relief package". Translated, this could mean: Aid for individual, particularly needy groups instead of an all-round attack.

Behind the scenes, it seems that most of the measures are almost in agreement. All three now say that pensioners and students get something, and the FDP also speaks of one-off payments for the particularly needy. And the Chancellor has his thieving joy at the public guesswork: The fact that no one has heard anything about the talks makes him "professionally proud," he said in Meseberg.

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