Chancellor Olaf Scholz was able to throw a snowball outside, but apparently it wasn't quite as frosty inside: at the closed meeting of the federal cabinet at Meseberg Castle, there was "a very palpable undercut," the SPD politician announced after the meeting of the ministerial team north of Berlin . "I can tell you that we have also made progress on many issues that we negotiate in day-to-day business," said Scholz.
Previously, the SPD, Greens and FDP had fought bitter bickering on various topics, such as the expansion of the motorway, a ban on new oil and gas heating systems or the financing of the planned basic child security. Public correspondence between Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) gave the impression that cooperation was currently difficult.
According to calculations by the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", around 30 legislative proposals are currently on hold because one of the three coalition partners does not agree. Bundestag President Bärbel Bas warned the traffic light last week not to constantly give urgent projects to parliament - this had happened several times recently because the coalition had only been able to agree shortly before a deadline.
During the 24-hour retreat in the 18th-century baroque palace, the controversial issues were not officially on the agenda. On the sidelines, however, there is always the opportunity to clarify one or the other, said Finance Minister Lindner. "And that will also help with day-to-day political business in Berlin over the next few weeks." Translated, this means: The traffic light coalition probably had to go out into the (cold) air.
The optimistic chancellor
In Meseberg, Scholz actually wanted to talk less about inner-coalition sensitivities than about big lines after the turning point he proclaimed. The Chancellor put the closed conference under the motto "Confidence": It is about "how a society that has so much ahead of it can be and remain confident," he said at the beginning with a view to the consequences of the Ukraine war and the conversion of the economy towards more climate protection.
He later expressed his conviction that unemployment would no longer be an issue in Germany in a few years. "There is a lot to do for which we need a lot of women and men who work here in Germany, but also come from other countries so that all the work that is now happening in Germany can be done."
No agreement on the budget
The mood among the coalition partners probably also remained good because difficult issues were not fully discussed. Lindner emphasized that budget negotiations were not held at Meseberg Castle. The key points for the 2024 budget, which the FDP leader wants to present on March 15, were an important reason for the recently irritated mood. As usual, the colleagues want more money than the finance minister wants to grant them. The additional requests should add up to 70 billion euros. Lindner, who insists on complying with the debt brake and forgoing tax increases, sees no leeway for this.
Continued work on basic child security
According to Lindner, the coalition also has work to do on the second issue, the financing of the planned basic child security system. But the bundling of state benefits for families is only planned for 2025, the FDP leader braked. The Greens and Family Minister Lisa Paus do not see it that way: They have already registered an additional need of 12 billion euros for the project, with which child benefit, child allowance and other support services are to be combined.
"There is agreement that we will provide the services to which families are entitled in an automated, digitized manner," said Lindner in Meseberg. Automating permits for eligible families alone will cost an estimated two to three billion euros in 2025. The Greens not only want to reduce the bureaucratic hurdles for obtaining benefits, but also increase the funds.
Ball played to Brussels
On the third issue, the end of cars with internal combustion engines from 2035, Scholz no longer sees the coalition, but the EU Commission on the train. The federal government is agreed that a proposal for the use of climate-neutral, synthetic fuels must come from Brussels. Lindner criticized that there is currently no legal certainty that vehicles with petrol or diesel engines can still be registered after 2035 if they are fueled with "eco-fuel". Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) sees talks with the EU Commission as going in the right direction.
After Meseberg is before the coalition committee
The opposition accused the federal government of self-blockade. "The lack of results of the cabinet meeting reflects the political standstill within the federal government," said CDU chairman Friedrich Merz of the German Press Agency in Berlin. The Union is calling on the government to settle their disputes and initiate a real turning point domestically. "Meseberg was above all a self-help group less a cabinet retreat," said Left Party leader Dietmar Bartsch of the dpa. "Maximum problems in the country, plenty of dissent and a lot of self-portrayal in the coalition."
However, resolutions on current controversial issues were not the goal of the coalition at Schloss Meseberg, as government representatives had previously indicated. There are other bodies for this, such as a coalition committee planned for the end of the month.