Budget week in the Bundestag: Suddenly different tones


Status: 11/25/2022 6:37 p.m

The budget week in the Bundestag was pleasantly serious and constructive. After the internal skirmishes of the past few weeks, it became clear that the traffic light coalition can also work together.

By Corinna Emundts, tagesschau.de

One might think that the political speakers of the budget week in the Bundestag would have been inspired by the nationwide reading day, each took a book to the plenary session and felt like joking. Chancellor Olaf Scholz countered in the direction of opposition leader Friedrich Merz, his remarks reminded him of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”: Anyone who believes that “also believes in talking white rabbits”.

CSU regional group leader Alexander Dobrindt, on the other hand, used Jim Button and the pseudo-giant to criticize the policy of the traffic light coalition: “The closer you get to it, the smaller it becomes!” Even Scholz had to grin.

On the last day of the debate, ex-Health Minister and new opposition politician Jens Spahn took up the thread again: Instead of Carroll, he sees Samuel Beckett as more appropriate here when it comes to the ambiguity of energy price relief for citizens: “Waiting for Godot!”

Struggling to find the right way out of the crisis

But the impression is deceptive: This was not just about superficial banter, garnished with literary esprit. This week of sessions, in which the Bundestag dealt verbosely with each individual budget of each ministry, was politically impressive. Here parliamentarians wrestled with arguments about the right way out of the crisis. No other word is said to have been spoken there more often every day than this: crisis.

Measured against the heated battles over the gas levy, the gas price brake and the “blockade” of citizen income threatened by the Union, this parliamentary week appeared pleasantly serious and constructive. A basic compromise was found between the Union and the traffic light coalition, between the federal government and the state chambers, before the mediation committee convened for this purpose even met.

concern for democracy

And suddenly there were other tones on the part of the Union: “It is a great moment for democracy – our system, which relies on compromises and reduces the polarization of society, has proven its worth,” said Reiner Haseloff, CDU Prime Minister in Saxony-Anhalt Friday in the related Federal Council meeting.

He touched on a topic that was always present in conversations in the corridors and cafeterias of the Reichstag: Concern about democracy itself, which in this world situation with the advance of authoritarian systems, but also growing skepticism about democracy at home, many MPs drives. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which violates international law, appeared in almost every speech.

What about the radiance and resilience of western democracies? This large dimension was reflected in many speeches in which the budgets with their many numbers were assigned a higher meaning: “We have the damned duty here to ensure that international law and international criminal law is not just written on paper,” exclaimed, for example FDP Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann to the plenum, who had started without a speech script. The point here is to restore the radiance of liberal democracies in the world.

Almost demonstratively agreed

After some internal traffic light battles in the past few weeks, it has now become clear that the traffic lights can also work together. After weeks of work and a budget adjustment session that was unified without carnage, a draft resolution was presented, behind which all three coalition partners lined up.

Christian Lindner and Robert Habeck, who have been described as antipodes in recent months, were almost demonstratively in agreement: Whether whispering to each other during the Merz speech on the government bench or verbally at the lectern.

Almost word for word they defended the policy of the traffic light coalition and the budget decisions. “The direction is clear: we will overcome the crisis, but we will not neglect the future tasks of this country,” said Finance Minister Lindner. The budget creates the possibility of surviving the crisis “in order to then come in at the right moment and keep up value creation, the economy, prosperity in Germany,” said the FDP politician.

Debate brake banter? Forget!

The opposition party CDU is largely absent from the budget, jokes an FDP MP in an interview tagesschau.de: Some there called for savings, while specialist politicians called for more spending. Union faction leader Merz, on the other hand, is not moving quickly enough in the defense budget to the spending target of two percent of gross domestic product promised by Scholz.

The internal traffic light banter about the debt brake was also silently put aside this week: Lindner insisted on this instrument almost like a prayer wheel, while it was repeatedly questioned in the ranks of the SPD and Greens for the crisis situation. Now Lindner spoke of the fact that the debt brake in the “core budget” would be complied with – and justified the additional expenditure made using special assets and funds, just like the SPD and the Greens.

What became clear, however, was that the traffic light coalition did not give anything away and did not spread any false harmony. When Scholz, for example, praised the FDP’s favorite project Aktienrente in his speech on Wednesday – there was only applause on the FDP benches. But at least no boos from the SPD and the Greens. You accept each other in the respective differences – that’s how the state of the traffic light coalition could be described this week.

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