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BERLIN – The three parties that hope to form the next German government have agreed on a basic framework for their formal coalition talks in a process that has been, at least in public, remarkably fluid and collegial.
Now, as they enter detailed negotiations ahead of a self-imposed Christmas deadline, that early success is being put to the test.
Nearly 300 pro-business Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) negotiators began meeting last week to work out the details of a possible coalition deal. The leaders of each party split into 22 thematic working groups, covering everything from mobility to democracy to climate issues.
These task forces are expected to present their recommendations by November 10, when the main party leaders will take over and seek to resolve any outstanding issues, with the aim of presenting their coalition agreement by the end. November.
The intention is to then form the new government and vote on 6 December Olaf Scholz of the SPD as chancellor.
This remains a difficult task: a so-called traffic light coalition of the SPD, the FDP and the Greens – so named for the respective party colors (red, yellow and green) – is unprecedented at the federal level and brings together parties with policies which on certain issues are difficult to reconcile.
When they announced they were ready to move to formal talks last month, the three sides released a 12-page document outlining the general framework for a new government – a document that showed they had already discussed and reached a preliminary compromise on some of the more delicate issues.
This framework provided for something for each of the parties, as well as important concessions from each: agreeing to raise the minimum wage to € 12 an hour, for example, is a priority for the SPD and the Greens; not enforcing a speed limit on the German autobahn is something the FDP has campaigned on, but the Greens strongly oppose it.
But it also contained enough vague language on some of the more sensitive issues to leave room for maneuver in negotiations. Here are some of the key areas where the three parties could still face off and where things stand so far:
Any coalition agreement will include important climate policy steps: investing in clean energy infrastructure, moving away from fossil fuel vehicles, and ending coal production, among other policies, all aim to ensure that l Germany is on track for the 1.5 degree Celsius climate. increase the goal.
In their preliminary document last month, the parties said they considered sticking to this goal to be “our shared core task”. But how far will they go – and how much of the Greens’ ambitious plan on their flagship problem will they be able to implement?
All three parties wrote that they wanted to end coal in Germany “ideally” by 2030, eight years earlier than expected. But the “ideally” bit leaves the option of moving that date if necessary, and it remains to be seen what language they use in any formal coalition agreement.
Another controversial climate policy between the three parties is the Greens’ plan to reduce or eliminate subsidies that contribute to climate change, such as the tax break for commuters. The Greens campaigned on it, but the FDP is critical.
For the Greens, the question is rather whether the possible coalition agreement goes far enough. They are under pressure from the Fridays for Future movement to push for stronger reforms, and the Greens’ youth organization said last week it would base its vote for or against the coalition agreement on whether if it takes bold enough action on climate issues.
“It must make a lot of difference for the people of this country. The path of 1.5 degrees Celsius must be followed, ”Timon Dzienus, spokesperson for Green Youth, told Der Spiegel last week. “Otherwise, we will not vote for this coalition agreement.
Fiscal and monetary policy
Taxation and public debt were always going to be among the most controversial issues in talks between the two left-wing parties and the FDP – and not just because of a fierce behind-the-scenes battle for the finance ministry.
Last month, parties wrote that they would stick to the so-called debt brake, which limits public debt to an annual budget deficit of less than 0.35% of GDP. It was a significant victory for the FDP, whose hallmark policy has been fiscal restraint and low taxation.
The coalition’s initial document also stated that a coalition “would not introduce new taxes on assets and would not increase taxes such as income tax, corporate tax or corporate tax. added value “.
But the question of taxation continues to provoke tensions between the FDP and its two potential coalition partners. For the Greens and the SPD, the commitment not to increase taxes is already an important concession; for the FDP, it does not go far enough.
“There isn’t a lot of movement in the area of fiscal policy, which includes taxes, I have to be honest,” Greens Robert Habeck said last week, striking the same chord as the SPD’s Scholz.
Both said that the FDP’s insistence that there be no tax hikes, including for wealthy people, means there would be no room for tax relief for those who are wealthy. low income classes. But this drew a strong reaction from Volker Wissing, secretary general of the FDP.
“It will get us nowhere if every negotiator talks about what he would do if he could rule alone,” he told German media, adding: “Even though tax breaks are not listed in the document exploratory, that doesn’t mean we don’t talk about it anymore.
And FDP leader Christian Lindner also expressed frustration with the handling of the issue by the other two parties, and said he wanted the prospect of tax cuts to remain on the table.
“I understand from the public statements of the leaders of the SPD and the Greens that they are apparently no longer both looking to cut low and normal wages,” he told Bild am Sonntag. “We want to continue internal discussions on this. “
Beyond the borders of Germany, the budgetary rules and monetary policy of the European Central Bank are also on the agenda. The FDP promotes German frugality throughout the European Union, while the SPD and the Greens are open to the concept of common debt.
The wording of the preliminary document is particularly vague when it comes to fiscal rules: “The Stability and Growth Pact has proven its flexibility,” it read, leaving room for interpretation as to how this flexibility should be used. .
As for the ECB’s monetary regime, the departure of Jens Weidmann as President of the Bundesbank has revived a national debate on interest rates which should spill over into coalition talks.
Foreign and security policy
Foreign and security policy was largely absent from the campaign earlier this fall, but it will feature prominently as coalition partners seek to build on their vague preliminary formulation of “Germany’s responsibility for Europe and the world ”.
The parties say they are committed to greater cooperation between European armies, a restrictive arms export policy within the framework of a corresponding European regulation, legal migration routes and the creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the German evacuation mission in Afghanistan.
However, there weren’t a handful of more sensitive topics in the paper, including the new government’s policy towards China and Russia, and the 2% spending target for NATO.
“NATO [is an] indispensable element of our security, ”the parties wrote, but made no mention of the spending target or the principle of nuclear sharing. (The Greens criticize the 2% target, while the FDP supports the policy and the SPD is divided. When it comes to nuclear sharing, factions within the SPD, as well as the Greens, oppose this practice. .)
More generally, it has emerged in recent days that the SPD and the Greens are seeking to reduce defense spending, according to the media.
The outgoing Christian Democratic Union defense minister had planned to add 20,000 more troops to the Bundeswehr in the coming years, but the SPD and Greens apparently want to revisit the matter, while the FDP has said ‘He would not oppose the change of leadership if the Bundeswehr were up to its task with fewer staff.
Regarding Russia, the SPD suggests the need for a new “Ostpolitik” in its electoral program, while the Greens and the FDP favor sanctions and the support of civil society.
The Greens’ Annalena Baerbock also said that Nord Stream 2 is illegal under EU law, while the SPD – which governs Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the state where the pipeline ends – is a strong supporter of the German project. -Russian.
Other delicate issues
Pension reforms: Parties said last month they had no plans to cut pensions or increase the age at which people can start receiving benefits. But the bigger question: how should a new government pay for it? – remains unanswered, and negotiators may have very different views on how to achieve this.
Housing policy: With rising rents in Berlin and across the country, affordable housing has been a priority, especially for the SPD. They and the Greens want to see a stronger national Mietpreisbremse, or brake on rents, which would help to curb the surge in rents, which the FDP has opposed in the past. As part of their coalition framework, the three parties called for the construction of 400,000 new apartments per year, 100,000 of which would be subsidized by the government.
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