Dispute in the traffic light coalition: More than just a bit of a budget

Status: 04/18/2023 10:00 p.m

The ministers of the traffic light government have been struggling for budget funds for weeks, and there has been no solution in sight for weeks. The tone of the debate has intensified – and is increasingly burdening the coalition.

By Nicole Kohnert, ARD Capital Studio

It is about many heart projects of the traffic light: basic child security, more money for defense, the reform of the health system, a better infrastructure in Germany and more speed in digitization. The list of traffic light projects has been long for months and the ministers responsible have been asking for money for weeks. But nobody wants to move or do without something at the moment – and that’s why there is a standstill right now, because it has long been unclear how this is going to be financed.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner tries to exude composure. He’s the one who should distribute the money and set up a budget. A good five weeks ago, however, he was unable to present any key points for the budget – the ministries’ budget requests were too far removed from the money that is actually available.

The ministries wanted 70 billion more. That was too much, so the reaction from the Ministry of Finance. And it also works without cornerstones, that’s not unusual.

Not much has happened since then. Calculations continue in the background, and the enormous interest burden and a financing gap are causing increasing concern for householders. Lindner has been watching for weeks now, repeatedly pointing out that savings must be made and the debt brake must be observed.

Possible new fuel in the traffic light

A Mikado game, some budget politicians scoff. Whoever moves and comes towards you loses. And so the debate has been going in circles for weeks. It continues to go to money for basic child security. A detailed financial concept from Family Minister Lisa Paus is missing, but she sticks to her required twelve billion euros for the social project.

The FDP already knows what the money is for, she explained in a recent interview with the “taz”. However, Lindner is not impressed by this and knows that the chancellor is behind him despite his tough austerity measures.

A report by the “Spiegel” that Lindner wants to introduce a so-called accompanying budgetary law and thus save another 20 billion euros has been repeatedly rejected by his ministry. According to the report, priority should be given to savings in social security contributions such as those in the Ministry of Labor or Family Affairs. Such a concept could mean new fuel in the traffic light.

One thing is clear, and the householders agree on this: savings must be made. The money is not enough for all traffic light projects. Finance Minister Lindner leans back and sticks to his course. Also to strengthen the profile of his party.

Repurpose other loans?

Meanwhile, the SPD is looking at the 200 billion in the economic stabilization fund. SPD faction leader Rolf Mützenich called for planned loans from the fund to be used for other projects. It is well known that energy prices are not too high after all.

Mützenich also attacked the Minister of Finance several times. Lindner should “preach no water and drink wine” – an allusion to Lindner’s idea of ​​strengthening the German economy with investment bonuses, tax incentives for research and new depreciation options. So the sound gets sharper.

But that also leaves the Minister of Finance cold and he lets the SPD parliamentary group leader rebuff his demand. It is unconstitutional to do that, a misappropriation of funds. Here, too, many budget politicians agree with him internally at the traffic light.

But something has to change now – that’s what the SPD parliamentary group leader wanted to make clear. He believes that all coalition partners should be open to suggestions and not reject certain things out of reflex, says Mützenich.

Because the budget debate is also linked to the question of how to finance the traffic light promise to make the conversion of heating systems socially acceptable for everyone. Economics Minister Robert Habeck promised money from the climate and transformation fund. But how many billions of euros that could cost in the end and how it will be financed – that’s also something that’s currently being debated.

Movement until the summer break

The Union has been watching the budget dispute for weeks with exasperation. The dispute is not trivial, explains budget politician Mathias Middelberg from the CDU. It is a massive warning sign that the government is unable to act. The budget reflects the political concept of a government.

“The tasks have to be reprioritized, in some places savings have to be made,” said Middelberg. “The challenges with issues such as old-age security, health insurance, digitization or migration must not be pushed any further.”

The cornerstones of the budget have now been postponed. We are now waiting for the tax estimate at the beginning of May, which will not cause any major surprises. Many hope that Finance Minister Lindner will present a budget before the Bundestag’s summer recess. Until then, however, many in the cabinet still have to move.

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