Budget week in the Bundestag: code word captain’s armband – politics

This time they agreed on the word “captain’s armband”. The CSU politician Stefan Müller asked the Bundestag on Friday whether Olaf Scholz might come later and wear the captain’s armband?” (Answer: No). Gesine Lötzsch of the left said: “If I had a captain’s armband to award in this government, I would award it to Mr. Lindner.” His party friend Otto Fricke (FDP) had read at the breakfast table that there was another argument in the Union about who would take over the captain’s armband in the next candidacy for chancellor. And when Bundestag Vice President Petra Pau reminded the speaker of the Greens of the allotted speaking time, Sven-Christian Kindler replied: “Madam President, I know you have the captain’s armband here in the house, I’ll come to the end.”

At the end of the budget week, before the plenum votes on how much the federal government is allowed to spend in the coming year, budget politicians traditionally step up to the microphone again. This time it’s about 476 billion euros – and perhaps the burden of this sum can only be endured with a small ironic note. In any case, the budget keepers of all parliamentary groups have been practicing an amazing ritual in this final round, and have been doing so for many years: Before the meeting, they agree on a code word that every member of parliament has to include in his speech. So this year the captain’s armband.

The current reason for this election was of course the former favorite sport of the Germans, which is currently being buried in Qatar. In the past, however, more subtle terms have also become codewords, such as the “Reeperbahn Festival”, the “bald head” or the “herd protection donkey”.

The experienced budget politicians intersperse the term with virtuosity

All the more virtuosic are the tricks with which experienced householders incorporate such words into their speeches. The CDU politician André Berghegger said in 2020, the year of the donkey: “Just as the guardian donkey is supposed to protect the sheep from the wolves, the black zero protects the household from further debts.” At that time, the Union still governed with the SPD and the passionate housekeeper Otto Fricke asked: “Which livestock protection donkey do we need from September 26 of the coming year, after the federal elections?” The left-wing deputy Lötzsch seemed at least to suspect the election result when she said: “Now Finance Minister Scholz is the herd guardian here. But the voters are not sheep.”

This time, 15 speakers put the bandage in their mouths, including a member of parliament from the AfD. Such cross-party games are completely unusual in German parliamentarism. But the householders aren’t the usual members of parliament either, they’re more of a close-knit community. Their sovereignty over the government budget, the so-called royal right of parliament, apparently creates identity across party lines.

The exclusive circle of initiates belongs to the informal set of rules of the code word game. At the beginning of the debate, only the household experts know the term. In the rest of the plenum, it usually only gradually seeps through, which is why everyone suddenly says “captain’s armband”, “herd guardian donkey” or “mulled wine”.

nonsense? No, it is about serving democracy

Hans Michelbach (CSU) used the code word mulled wine a few years ago to advertise local Franconian wine, “it’s a bit too good to make mulled wine out of it”. “Laughter” is noted in the minutes at this point. After a total of 16 mentions of mulled wine from all parliamentary groups, Vice-President Edelgard Bulmahn found it a little too cheerful: “I’m slowly feeling the need to clarify that mulled wine isn’t drunk all the time in the German Bundestag.”

But this is not only about stupidity, but also about a service to democracy. Otto Fricke says the code word proves “that there is also a connecting element in every dispute between the parties”.

The question of whether the respective finance minister is involved is always exciting. Wolfgang Schäuble usually took part, Olaf Scholz occasionally, Peer Steinbrück is said to have even made a significant contribution to the development of the game in the noughties, when he once compared budget politicians to ferrets. Thus the code word ferret was born.

Finance Minister Christian Linder said on Friday that the householders had “put on the captain’s armband, so to speak” in order to give the country orientation with this budget. Oh well. In 2014, Hans-Ulrich Krüger (SPD) demonstrated how elegantly such a code word can be interspersed. He gave a standard budget speech and said at the very end: “You see, I avoided the word bald.”

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