Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has called for a "national effort" to make Germany more modern, faster and safer. In the general debate in the Bundestag, he proposed a "Germany Pact" to modernize the country to states, municipalities and the opposition, with the exception of the AfD.
"Speed instead of standing still, action instead of sitting around, cooperation instead of quarreling. That's the order of the day," emphasized Scholz. "Only together will we shake off the mildew of bureaucracy, risk aversion and despondency that has settled on our country for years, decades."
CSU regional group head Alexander Dobrindt accepted the Chancellor's offer for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. But he also asked Scholz to first ensure unity in the traffic light coalition with the Greens and FDP. "First end the arguments in your own store," he said. "Then you can talk about whether you can cooperate with us."
In recent weeks, there has been a massive dispute in the coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP, especially about the heating law and basic child security. In surveys, more than two-thirds of Germans are now dissatisfied with the work of the traffic light government.
One pact, four goals
With the "Germany Pact", Scholz is now trying to get off the defensive. He is reacting to stagnating economic growth, inflation, sluggish digitization, partly dilapidated infrastructure and sprawling bureaucracy in Germany. The British "Economist" recently even asked whether Germany was "the sick man of Europe" again.
The Chancellor now wants to take countermeasures with measures in four areas:
- Approval procedures are to be accelerated so that, for example, building permits can be issued more easily or masts for high-speed mobile Internet can be erected without any problems.
- The growth and competitiveness of the German economy should be strengthened. Among other things, the tax relief for companies amounting to 32 billion euros already decided by the cabinet should be implemented, but the establishment of start-up companies should also be made easier.
- The administration is to be further digitized. By the end of 2024, important services such as applications for a new driver's license or identity card or parental and citizen's allowance should be possible "continuously" online.
- The immigration of skilled workers from abroad is to be further promoted, including through accelerated procedures. At the same time, "irregular" immigration should be better controlled and deportations should be carried out more quickly.
First Scholz argues with Merz, then he makes advances to him
The goals are not new. What is new, however, is that Scholz is now looking for a broad alliance to implement it. His offer is aimed at the 16 heads of government of the federal states, at the district administrators and mayors throughout the republic. It is also aimed at the "democratic opposition". The Chancellor means all opposition parties except for the AfD. In the Bundestag these are the CDU, CSU and Die Linke.
Scholz expressly addressed his offer to Friedrich Merz, the chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. Before he made his advances, the Chancellor first argued with Merz in the Bundestag about the financing of the Bundeswehr. The Chancellor responded to the CDU leader's accusation that Scholz was not living up to the demands he had formulated in his "turning point" speech with the words: "It doesn't work with the bugbears in this republic." Quite a harsh tone to introduce an offer of cooperation.
Next up is the Germany summit?
In the debate that followed, the Chancellor's proposal didn't really catch on either. The faction leaders of the SPD and FDP, Rolf Mützenich and Christian Dürr, backed the initiative. Dobrindt accepted the offer to talk. A real argument about the advance did not develop. In general, the Bundestag has experienced much livelier general debates than this one. Given the rather gloomy economic situation, that's rather surprising.
It is unclear how things will continue now. How is the pact organized? Is the next step a Germany summit with prime ministers, mayors, district administrators and opposition representatives? What about business associations and unions? Scholz did not include her in his offer to talk, but called on her elsewhere in his speech to pull together.
Memories of the "jerk speech" of 1997
The chancellor's appearance may have reminded some of the famous "jerk speech" by Federal President Roman Herzog, who demanded in 1997: "A jerk must go through Germany. We must bid farewell to cherished possessions. Everyone is addressed, everyone must make sacrifices , everyone has to participate."
But Herzog's direction was different at the time. He prepared Germany for reforms that can be painful for everyone and that came later with the Agenda 2010 of the red-green government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD). Things are different with Scholz. His speech is about promoting growth and competitiveness, not about demanding sacrifices.
First the “turning point”, now the “Germany Pact”
In any case, the second half of the election period now has a title. While in the first two years it was the "turning point" after the Russian attack on Ukraine that resulted in a paradigm shift in German foreign and security policy, now it is the "Germany Pact". Until the 2025 election, the main focus will be how Germany repositions itself internally.