Justice: Put Corona money into the climate? Court checks budget

It was the first budget draft by the then new Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) - and it ended up before the highest German court.

Justice: Put Corona money into the climate? Court checks budget

It was the first budget draft by the then new Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) - and it ended up before the highest German court. If the Federal Constitutional Court decides on the supplementary budget for 2021, it could throw the federal government's budget planning upside down. It's about 60 billion euros that are planned for climate protection. Today, the Karlsruhe judges want to hear different perspectives on this.

what is this money

In January 2022, the Bundestag subsequently changed the budget for the previous year. This reallocated 60 billion euros that were approved as loans in the Corona crisis but were ultimately not needed to fight the pandemic.

Instead of reducing the new debt, the money was pushed into the so-called climate and transformation fund, from which the federal government pays for long-term investments in more climate protection. It was earmarked: the funds may be used to promote energy-efficient buildings and CO2-neutral mobility, for example. The building and transport sectors are among the biggest problem children when it comes to climate protection.

Who sued - and with what arguments?

The members of the opposition Union faction went to court immediately after the Bundestag decision. They criticized the federal government for loading up its pockets full of money and thus deliberately circumventing the debt brake in the Basic Law. Because without the money from the special fund, many billions would have to be saved elsewhere for the climate projects because you are not allowed to take out new loans.

The Federal Court of Auditors also described the shift as "constitutionally dubious". The money was originally approved to combat the corona pandemic. Now there is no conclusive reason why it is being misused for climate protection. The auditors argued that climate change must be dealt with using normal budgetary rules.

How does the federal government justify the rededication?

In government circles it was said at the time that many climate protection investments had not been possible for a long period of time because of the pandemic. It is therefore only logical to use the debt incurred due to the Corona crisis to make up for it. In addition, the economy is not recovering as quickly as hoped and must continue to be supported by investments.

Has there ever been a switch like this?

Yes, and the Union itself was involved in that. In 2020, the then black-red federal government also shifted 28 billion euros to the climate fund. "We did exactly the same thing in the last coalition," argued SPD budget keeper Dennis Rohde in the debate on the supplementary budget. At that time, the Union spoke full of praise of a "vitamin injection for the future of our country".

Hasn't the Constitutional Court ruled on this before?

Yes. However, that was only an urgent decision in November. At that time, the judges in Karlsruhe allowed the rededication to continue. They justified this by saying that the consequences of a temporary stop would have been too severe if the main proceedings turned out to be constitutional.

As an example, the Second Senate mentioned that the EEG surcharge could possibly no longer be financed from the reallocated funds - which would result in an increase in electricity prices for consumers and companies. Programs for efficient buildings, electrically powered vehicles or for the decarbonization of industry could be jeopardized and the climate targets thus missed.

Is the final decision already predetermined?

No. According to the notification at the time, the court sees the possibility that constitutional requirements were violated. With a view to the debt brake, for example, it must be examined which principles apply to exceptions in the event of natural disasters and exceptional emergency situations and whether they can be circumvented by special funds. "Finally, it could also be of constitutional importance that the Second Supplementary Budget Act 2021 was not passed until 2022."

What consequences could the judgment have?

In a so-called abstract review of norms, which is the issue here, the judges check whether a regulation is compatible with the Basic Law or with other federal law. If this is not the case, the Federal Constitutional Court declares the legal norm void or incompatible with the Basic Law.

Then the transfer of credit authorizations would be invalid. How politics then deals with it would probably be up to you. What is certain is that Lindner does not simply have the money on the high edge. The expenditure from the climate and transformation fund is already tightly knit - and more and more ideas are coming up as to what could be paid for with it. For example, subsidies for replacing old oil and gas heating systems with more climate-friendly models.

Will a judgment be pronounced today?

No. This only follows some time - usually several months - later.

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