Traffic light dispute over budget: A warning signal at the right time


Status: 03/10/2023 3:02 p.m

Finance Minister Lindner shows his spending-friendly coalition partners the financial limits. That’s right. In times of high inflation, the state can no longer afford to borrow.

A comment by Martin Polansky, ARD capital studio

This is a warning signal for the federal government. Finance Minister Christian Lindner has to postpone the first important date for preparing the 2024 federal budget. Apparently, the traffic light parties are currently unable to come to an agreement on the finances. And as is well known, almost everything depends on money.

That doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Because in the coalition, the ideas about what the state can and should afford are very different. The brakeman Lindner is opposed to spending-friendly Social Democrats and especially the Greens.

And next year’s budget will be a crucial one. For the first time, the debt brake of the Basic Law should actually take full effect again. A really solid budget should be set up.

crises filled with money

For the current 2023 budget, the traffic light coalition had drawn on high reserves and indulged in additional debt through shadow budgets, the so-called special funds. After the “Corona boom” followed the “double boom” against high energy prices – calculated at 200 billion euros, which corresponds to almost half a regular federal budget. In addition, there were 100 billion euros in special funds for the Bundeswehr.

The exceptional years since the beginning of the Corona crisis have shifted mentalities in financial policy. Since 2020, the rule has been that the crises are filled with money. Money that you didn’t have at all and therefore had to take on corresponding debts. As if the state could finance more and more on credit.

Some crisis aid may have been completely exaggerated. Just think of the generous one-off payments at the beginning of the corona pandemic or the tank discount. And the 200 billion euro “double boom” to cope with energy costs is now also proving to be oversized thanks to the fall in energy prices.

Traffic light needs a change of mindset

The problem: in times of high inflation, loans are no longer available for free. In the coming year, the federal government will probably have to spend 40 billion euros just on interest. 40 billion euros is more money than the Ministry of Transport has available. And further borrowing not only increases interest costs, but also fuels inflation.

A change of mentality is therefore needed now. This means not always adding new spending requests, which is particularly true for the Greens and the SPD. Citizens’ allowance, basic child security, extensive state aid for the energy and climate transition – all well and good. You just have to be able to afford it.

It is therefore correct that Finance Minister Lindner insists in this situation that the economy is sound and that the debt brake must actually be adhered to. The traffic light finally agreed on this in its coalition agreement – with Chancellor Scholz at the helm. Maybe Scholz has to make it clear to his spending-happy cabinet colleagues where the limits are. Then the warning signal of the budget shift would also have something good in the end.

Editorial note

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