Coalition in crisis: What signals does the traffic light send?

Coalition in crisis: What signals does the traffic light send?

The dispute over nuclear power has plunged the government into its first major crisis. What’s next? Seven theses on the state of the coalition.

Olaf Scholz with Robert Habeck and Christian Lindner

It didn’t work without the authority to set guidelines: Olaf Scholz with Robert Habeck and Christian Lindner Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa

Olaf Scholz has one this week Word of power spoken. In the week-long bickering between the Greens and the FDP as to whether the three nuclear power plants still in operation in Germany should be allowed to continue supplying electricity until spring, he decided: Yes – but only until mid-April. And instructed his ministers in a short 18-line to implement it like this, with reference to his policy competence.

This is a trump card that gives the chancellor power, especially if he doesn’t draw it. Angela Merkel has only threatened to do so once in 16 years as chancellor, but she has never played it out. Scholz resorted to it after less than a year and in a fairly trivial matter. Because whether people don’t have to freeze in winter, keep their jobs and whether Germany as an industrial location has a future doesn’t depend on three German nuclear power plants whose fuel rods are almost gone. It’s about whether the rise in electricity and gas prices can be slowed down despite the war in Ukraine. What help companies and consumers receive. Whether we can free ourselves from the dependence on dirty energies supplied by authoritarian states. And whether all this will succeed in solidarity with the partner countries. Big tasks – does the traffic light pack enough to cope with them? Or does she pack up?

1. The nuclear dispute is not over

Parts of the FDP do not want to turn around in the dispute over the extension of the term. “I’m sure we’ll have a new discussion in the spring of next year,” said party deputy Wolfgang Kubicki immediately after the chancellor’s word of power. “If it turns out that we still need nuclear power plants, April 15, 2023 will not be the end date for nuclear power in Germany.”

However, two things speak against the fact that there will actually be an extension of the term. Scholz himself has now committed himself both to the exit date and to the fact that there will be no new fuel rods. So he would have to take back his decision, which was enforced with directive competence. And: The date will be in the law, the Bundestag would have to change this. That the Greens agree, is hard to imagine. You’re going through a lot, but buying new fuel rods might be the limit. The traffic light could actually fail because of this.

2. The FDP triumphs to death

Four state elections, four defeats: None of the three traffic light partners is losing favor with voters like the FDP. She started with the claim to prevent the worst from red-green. In doing so, she has achieved quite a lot. The FDP has managed to rule out a simple measure such as a speed limit in Germany’s biggest energy crisis. Instead, she campaigned for a tank discount, some of which benefited oil companies. In the global corona health crisis, she has railed against a mask requirement as if the freedom of the planet depended on it. A nationwide moratorium on layoffs in the crisis? Successfully blocked. Only: Hardly anyone thanks the FDP.

3. Yellow-Green are pretty much best enemies

It started promisingly with a selfie. The Greens and the FDP unite against the big SPD, that’s the idea. A few crises later, little seems to have remained of this. But the two parties are not as bad as some say. There are always similarities: FDP and Greens both attack the Chancellor because of the planned entry of the Chinese state-owned company Cosco in the port of Hamburg. More toughness towards China and Russia, they share this line. They also work together when it comes to data retention. And when the next nuclear dispute is looming, it will definitely help to smoke a bag together.

4. The Greens need to get tougher

The Greens are too nice in the coalition, they argue too little for their cause. The FDP wants its head through the wall and on and on – and the Greens let them do it, even when it comes to their core issues. Whether e-fuels, nuclear power plant operation or a total blockade of the speed limit, even if the Greens have the better arguments and the citizens behind them, they give in. They are geared towards cooperation and not confrontation. That’s nice, but not the right line-up in the current situation.

Another problem: The Greens have meticulously prepared for their participation in government. If Robert Habeck and his current team had moved into the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology in 2017, the energy crisis would have been much less severe because the energy transition would have been much further along. But now the top experts for the energy transition have to cushion the consequences of the energy crisis – for them uncertain terrain. The fiasco surrounding the gas surcharge showed what this can lead to. The energy companies helped to write the corresponding law. It doesn’t work to get the supposedly lacking expertise from outside and let those who want something completely different set the rules.

5. Money doesn’t matter

Germany is a rich country. With a gross domestic product of almost 3.6 trillion euros in 2021, it is the fourth largest economy in the world, the largest in the EU. Government debt is also limited, at 70 percent of GDP, which is well below the EU average. So there is money, Christian Lindner knows that too. That’s why he’s holding up the debt brake stop sign, so he hardly wants to incur any new debts. At the same time, he approves a series of detours that make loans possible: Here, an additional 100 billion for the Bundeswehr, there, 200 billion to cushion gas prices. The SPD actually wanted to avoid a discussion as to whether the debt brake would be lifted again in the coming year. The thought: Christian should wave his stop sign, the main thing is that it doesn’t block the detours. Olaf Scholz is apparently less anxious than his party: he is now bringing another suspension of the debt brake into play, like that World reported.

Another question is whether, in addition to debt, it shouldn’t also be about tapping new sources of income, such as a wealth levy. SPD and Greens want them, but not the FDP. In the SPD-Left one wants to keep the discussion about it simmering. But it is unlikely that they will actually make steam.

6. Olaf Scholz is a pseudo giant

Scholz has played the trump card “guideline competence” once, but often he can’t do that. Anyone who shouts around quickly loses authority. In the fragile tripartite alliance of SPD, Greens and FDP, Olaf Scholz is less in demand as a doer than as a mediator. He has to think about political successes for the FDP – key word be able to treat them – and at the same time appease the Greens, who think he begrudges the Liberals too much.

A year ago, at the beginning of the coalition negotiations, Scholz mirror said that you have to run as a coalition with the claim of being re-elected in the next elections. In the end, the traffic light can only win as a team. In addition, Olaf Scholz must always keep an eye on the international level. The best example: He had barely announced the 200 billion double boom when the EU neighbors complained that Germany was buying advantages. They need to be placated now. Domestic and foreign policy are intertwined, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made painfully clear.

7. The traffic light must deliver more

The traffic light failed for months on a key issue. Instead of quickly installing a socially targeted gas price cap, the trio of Habeck, Lindner and Scholz opted for a technically useless gas levy. In crises for which there is no blueprint, mistakes happen. But to stubbornly ignore for so long that it’s not a good idea to respond to skyrocketing prices by charging even more for the already overwhelmed has been an astounding failure.

The fight against the traffic light crisis seems headless overall. The relief packages move fascinatingly large sums of money. But they don’t live up to what the traffic light has set itself to do – social balance and climate protection. “Reaching the climate protection goals of Paris is our top priority,” says the preamble to the coalition agreement. But where is the acceleration in renewables? In the first half of 2022, 311 new wind turbines were approved in Germany. In 2015, there were three times as many. The traffic light allows LNG terminals to be built at top speed. That is necessary – but not enough.

The traffic light uses around 360 billion euros to mitigate the crisis – but the ecological control effect is zero. Even little things like reduced VAT on plant-based foods are missing. This crisis policy only follows the doctrine of what is feasible. Instead of specifically relieving poorer and small companies in need of livelihood and promoting effective climate protection, the watering can is used. Good governance requires pragmatism. But pragmatism is not enough for good governance.

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