100 Days in Power: The German Government’s Continued Stress Test | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

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Just before the 100-day milestone, a crack appeared in the unity of the coalition partners: Finance Minister Christian Lindner, chairman of the smallest party in government, the Free Democratic Liberals (FDP), came up with a bright idea: he suggested compensating motorists for soaring gasoline and diesel prices.

That evening, during prime time on public television, the Minister of the Economy and Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck of the Green Party was visibly not amused. There were “all kinds of suggestions for the market” and it would be wise to sit down together and then come up with the right suggestions, he said.

The subject is controversial. Germans are famous for their love of cars and fast driving on Autobahn highways – something that is particularly close to the heart of sports car fan Christian Lindner and his affluent voters. The Green Party, meanwhile, wants speed limits on highways and wants to boost public transport.

So far, the new three-party coalition led by the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) has been careful not to discuss contentious issues in public. The ability to remain silent, to present only resolutions to the outside world — not the steps he took to achieve them — has so far been something of a recipe for success for the alliance.

Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck is not amused by the ideas coming from the FDP

FDP: The smallest is the most confident

But after 100 days in power, the coalition seems to have been brought down to earth – to the political realities of the parties. The employers’ FDP and the Ecological Greens are the two opposing poles within the government. A key difference: the Greens wanted to form a coalition with the SPD even during the election campaign, the FDP had to be convinced first. The resulting imbalance has persisted. The FDP acts with the assurance of being indispensable.

It is a challenge for Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the SPD to strike a balance.

The Chancellor and the Minister of Finance get along well. Scholz was Lindner’s predecessor as finance minister, so they have a connection there – perhaps too much in the eyes of the Greens.

When Olaf Scholz announced a planned €100 billion ($110 billion) increase for the Bundeswehr during a State of the Nation address on February 27, it later emerged that he had agreed of that with his finance minister, but not with senior SPD officials or Green politicians. , who seemed to be taken by surprise.

Christian Lindner's election poster

During the election campaign, Christian Lindner said prophetically “Things cannot stay as they are”

The coalition also disagrees on the subject of the coronavirus pandemic: most FDP lawmakers are opposed to the introduction of a universal vaccination mandate. The Greens and the SPD are mostly in favor of it but do not have the majority to pass it through parliament. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach of the SPD therefore decided not to submit a bill for the corresponding law, which gave the impression that the government was weak and undecided.

As for infection protection laws, the FDP is also behind the removal of most coronavirus prevention measures from March 20.

Where is Olaf Scholz?

From the start of his term, the Chancellor saw how quickly you can fall out of favor with voters. Olaf Scholz is a politician who likes to work behind the scenes – in public he likes to communicate the results, not the steps it took to get them. In his inaugural speech in parliament on December 15, Scholz announced that he wanted to quickly tackle key projects in the areas of climate protection, digitalization and economic transformation.

After that, he all but disappeared from public view, becoming so invisible that the hashtag #WoIstScholz (Where’s Scholz?) quickly popped up on Twitter.

Then, when the crisis with Russia escalated and the call for arms to Ukraine grew louder, as did the call for sanctions, Scholz seemed to back off. Consequently, the popularity of the Chancellor and her SPD declined significantly in January.

Renewable ‘freedom energies’ instead of Russian gas

But Scholz took action: he flew to Washington, kyiv and Moscow and ultimately made the decision not to license the Nord Stream 2 pipeline – yet. This decision also involved accommodating the Greens, who had long wanted Nord Stream to be shut down.

The reasons for the Greens were not only geopolitical but also to reduce the use of fossil fuels and accelerate the expansion of renewable energy sources. Soaring energy prices and the risk of Russia cutting gas means the Greens are now on a roll. Even the FDP is changing its position – Christian Lindner has called wind and solar power “the energies of freedom”. However, the FDP also advocates a rollback of nuclear phase-out. Germany is expected to shut down its three remaining nuclear power plants by the end of this year.

Empty chests cause problems

War and energy crisis, climate change, pandemic – each of these crises alone has the potential to keep a government on edge.

This government must take care of everyone, everyone at the same time. And it becomes more difficult the less money they have at their disposal. The FDP also plays a key role in this dossier. The Minister of Finance, Christian Lindner, will again this year have to contract loans of several hundreds of billions of euros. In 2023, however, he wants to put a brake on new debt again.

According to preliminary financial plans, substantial savings are to be made from 2023. Many projects included in the coalition agreement would no longer be affordable. Will the SPD and the Greens allow this to happen?

There are already rumblings within the SPD. The introduction of parental allowance, basic child allowance and care allowance, none of this is mentioned anymore. The creation of affordable housing, the boost to the pension system seem just as out of reach as the increase in taxes for the wealthiest.

The harmony with which the coalition governed during its first 100 days is by no means certain to endure.

This article was originally published in German.

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