No night meetings, that was the credo at the beginning of the self-proclaimed progressive coalition. Many things were to be done differently, including in the processes. The coalition negotiations, which were carried out in a stringent and trusting manner, served as a model. But somehow there was a crisis right from the start, Russia was waging war in Ukraine, and then the dispute broke out more and more clearly as to how much and by what means climate protection should be promoted. “It’s still going,” was reported from the chancellery shortly before 6 a.m. on Monday morning. The coalition committee of the leaders of the SPD, Greens and FDP has been meeting for almost twelve hours. However, there is also a certain amount of time pressure, because at noon the chancellor and some of his ministers have to go to Rotterdam for the German-Dutch government consultations.
The leaders of the traffic light coalition met in the Chancellery on Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. It’s pretty loud in front of his door at this time, police officers have to keep the entrance clear. “Where is this climate chancellor, where where?” Hundreds of demonstrators chanted. “We’re here, we’re loud because you’re stealing our future.” It cannot be that a single minister “burns our future”, they take after the compromise in the dispute over the combustion engine, which after 2035 should at least have a future in the EU with fuel produced in a climate-neutral manner at the insistence of the FDP, the responsible transport minister Targeted Volker Wissing (FDP).
Olaf Scholz arrived at his workplace shortly before 5 p.m. for one of the more important coalition committees, as did his head of the chancellery, Wolfgang Schmidt. The Greens in particular miss the chancellor’s leadership. The SPD side has their preliminary meeting in the Chancellery, alongside party leader Lars Klingbeil and parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich, Secretary General Kevin Kühnert is also there, co-party leader Saskia Esken is missing due to a corona disease.
The Green squad comes on foot. Economics Minister Robert Habeck, casually in a hooded sweatshirt, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock with a thick briefcase under her arm, party leaders Omid Nouripour and Ricarda Lang and parliamentary group leaders Britta Haßelmann and Katharina Dröge marched past the demonstrators without comment. They made it clear in advance that it was need results.
The FDP squad around Christian Lindner, Wissing and parliamentary group leader Christian Dürr drives into the courtyard of the Chancellery in limousines. The speakers make it clear that a long meeting is to be expected until late at night, and that results will not be announced until Monday. In any case, the demonstrators make their way home after the start of the meeting at just after 6.30 p.m.
For months, the coalition has been arguing, for example, whether only railway lines and bridges should be built faster or also certain sections of the motorway with less complex environmental protection tests. The FDP insists on that. The Greens have so far categorically rejected a faster expansion of motorways. The SPD can imagine that certain autobahn sections, in the sense of the FDP, are given preference as being particularly important for traffic relief and are therefore built more quickly. From 2024 onwards, according to the will of the Greens, for reasons of climate protection, only heating systems that are operated with at least 65 percent renewable energies may be installed. This effectively means the end of conventional oil and gas heating systems. FDP and SPD have concerns here. The SPD criticizes the resulting uncertainty and demands that tenants and low-income households should not be overwhelmed. It’s about a program worth billions, the financing of which is unclear so far, and a kind of “scrap bonus” for old heaters is also circulating as an idea.
The chancellor himself made a lot of promises, including on climate protection, it’s been a while. “Anyone who orders a tour from me will also get it,” Olaf Scholz used to like to say. As Chancellor, he only spoke once – last fall, when the coalition argued about the continued operation of three nuclear power plants, which can now continue to run until mid-April. Now the Greens, but also the Free Democrats, would like to order leadership from the Chancellor again on the many other controversial points. In their own way, of course.
Scholz tries to convey a lot behind the scenes instead of publicly rashly committing to a position. This also has to do with the fragile structure of this three-party coalition. The FDP often sees itself as a corrective, also wants to reduce emissions, for example through strict emissions trading, but insists on more openness to technology instead of working with bans.
“The entire issue of climate protection and transport is unresolved in this coalition,” complained Katharina Dröge in the middle of the week. It is also the task of the Chancellery to bring processes together in such a way that decisions can be made. FDP General Secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai had again accused the SPD and Greens of not having a common basic understanding of the realities of financial policy in the traffic light coalition. In spite of this, in the SPD they are calling for new leeway to be found in the budget, knowing full well that the Social Democrat in the Chancellery, as a former finance minister, is inclined to take the debt brake seriously – above all because this is a matter close to Lindner’s heart.
All coalition parties expect solutions – but they still have to deliver
As harsh as the tones in the coalition have been in some cases, members of the government have been trying for days to emphasize the successes of the traffic light alliance and the will to do constructive work. The people in Germany “expect that you don’t constantly argue, but that you solve the problems together,” said Baerbock, otherwise rarely at a loss for clear words.
The chancellor himself was optimistic at a public discussion in his constituency in Potsdam on Saturday. The coalition has big plans. His government has already made many far-reaching decisions. “That’s why I’m also confident that we can now make a small leap forward with various tasks that we have set ourselves, but always with the inner understanding: We’re not stopping there, we’re going to continue,” he said.
Ultimately, it is also about the fundamental question of what pace there should be in climate protection – and with what means this should be achieved. After weeks of argument, it was clear to the actors in advance that decisions had to be made this time. Greens leader Lang said that one was chosen “that we solve problems. We will,” she quoted picture on sunday she.
The divided government unsettles the population
“We are currently experiencing that the federal government is arguing about almost every topic, even about things that are agreed in the coalition agreement,” said Ramona Pop (Greens), head of the consumer center federal association Süddeutsche Zeitung. This is not good, especially in times of crisis, because it makes people feel insecure and also annoys them. “The fact that a divided government leaves a good impression on the population is something the coalition should not believe,” said Pop.
In the dispute over the future of gas and oil heating, Germany’s top consumer advocate quickly called for clarity. “In view of the current discussions, people are puzzled as to how long they can continue to use their heating or what happens if it breaks.” It is time to objectify the debate. Pop warned households against investing in conventional heating.
In the long term, energy prices would hardly fall to the old level, and there would also be other burdens such as the price of CO2. “One cannot in good conscience advise people to continue bringing fossil fuels into their homes,” said the head of the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations. “That’s why it’s right to focus more on renewable energies when it comes to heating.”
The president of the municipal utility association VKU, Kiel’s mayor Ulf Kaempfer (SPD), made a similar statement. “If people continue to install natural gas and oil heating systems for another ten years, it won’t work.” The federal government is pursuing the right goal at the right pace. However, more flexibility is needed when it comes to the question of which heating systems will ultimately be used to achieve climate neutrality. The dispute over the building energy law had divided the coalition, last week Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck had sharply attacked his partners and pushed through the plans that had not yet been agreed Bild newspaper criticized.
The coalition representatives saw chances of an agreement in the run-up to the planning acceleration. The conflict revolves around the question of whether road and motorway projects should also benefit from the planned shortened procedures. The SPD has proposed identifying high-priority motorway projects that would be judged under the new rules, while others would remain under the current rules.
The coalition has been putting off the dispute for months, one construction site among many. Where the chancellor stands was also not clear here until now. He doesn’t like to be carried away, and the demonstrators outside are unlikely to have impressed him. Above all, he is looking for solutions that will ultimately keep his shop together.