How the constant dispute paralyzes the traffic light

Berlin Before the meeting of the coalition partners on Sunday evening, Robert Habeck (Greens) is trying to lighten the mood a bit. “We work well together, we get along well on a personal level,” says the Vice Chancellor. Habeck had just handed it out properly – and promptly caught angry reactions from the SPD and FDP.

The coalition committee on Sunday should now bring a change in mood. After all, compromises are in the offing on some controversial issues such as the ban on gas and oil heating or the end of petrol and diesel engines from 2035.

And there was even an agreement on the reform of the immigration of skilled workers and the further training law, which had long been disputed in the government. The draft laws for both projects should now go to the departmental vote.

However, this does not necessarily mean that they will be decided quickly. The self-proclaimed coalition of progress often presents itself as a blocking alliance. One ministry slows down the plan of the other department. And since the conflicts are often mixed up, everything is blocked.

In any case, the government engine has started to sputter. In the federal cabinet, 15 projects have been decided so far this year, as a government spokesman said on request. In the first quarter of last year, when the traffic light went live, there were 20. In the whole of 2022, the cabinet even came to 101 decisions.

>> Read more: Putin comparison and targeted leaks: coalition climate reaches new low

However, many projects are not progressing at the moment. According to a survey by the Handelsblatt among all federal ministries, at least 37 projects are currently being coordinated by the departments. The health and transport ministries did not provide any information.

Some of the bills will go their usual way through departmental votes. But many are also stopped by a veto from another ministry. The survey found that at least eleven laws in the departmental vote had reservations from other houses. The number is likely to be even higher, because a number of ministries did not want to provide any information on this, citing internal coordination processes in the government.

Many of the blocked laws have not progressed for weeks. And that’s not all of the contentious issues. Other projects have not even made it into the departmental vote because reservations were already made by other ministries during the so-called early coordination. The Handelsblatt highlights the biggest conflicts.

The Building Energy Act and alleged piercings

The Building Energy Act (GEG) is one of the most contested projects and has therefore not even made it into the departmental vote. The draft law was drawn up by the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Construction. After it was sent to a few other departments for early coordination, the paper ended up in the public domain.

>> Read more: Greens under pressure: How the party scares voters away with its climate protection plans

Economics Minister Habeck has accused his coalition partners of intentionally puncturing the draft in order to damage it. In fact, the economy minister has received a lot of criticism since the bill became public.

The aim of the GEG is to advance the heat transition in buildings: From 2024, only heating systems that are operated with at least 65 percent renewable energy should be allowed to be installed. In fact, this amounts to a ban on pure oil and gas heating. From Habeck’s point of view, the means of choice is the electric heat pump.

The SPD, Greens and FDP had already agreed on the 65 percent target in their coalition agreement. It should not apply until 2025; However, in view of the energy supply crisis of the past year, the coalition partners agreed to bring the target forward by one year in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels more quickly.

>> Read here: Greens and SPD plan to ban new pure oil and gas heating systems from 2024

But the GEG draft goes too far, especially for the liberals. They fear that homeowners will be overwhelmed and believe that the strong fixation on the heat pump is wrong.

But there is also criticism from the SPD. Habeck had tried to smooth things over in the past few days by promising additional funding. He promised that switching to a heat pump for homeowners on low and medium incomes would not be more expensive than a new gas heating system from 2024.

However, it is questionable where the billions in funding will come from in view of the tight budgetary situation. It would be possible to use the so-called Climate and Transformation Fund (KTF). The money would have to be redeployed there.

All the details are currently still being discussed between the Chancellery, the Ministry of Construction, the Ministry of Economics and Finance. It remained unclear until recently whether the issue would also play a role in the coalition committee and whether it might already be resolved there.

The postponed budget and expensive wish lists

A lot of the traffic light fights are about money. The wish lists in the ministries are significantly more expensive than the budget allows. Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) therefore felt compelled to take an unusual step two weeks ago: he postponed the presentation of the key figures for the 2024 budget indefinitely.

The ministries had announced an additional need of around 70 billion euros – money that does not exist in the budget if the debt brake is to be adhered to as planned by Lindner. Talks have been going on at various levels for two weeks now.

Finance Minister Lindner

Wishlist that would cost 70 billion euros.

(Photo: dpa)

But so far no agreement is in sight. According to an internal paper from the Ministry of Finance this week, “there is currently a funding gap for the permissible net borrowing of 14 to 18 billion euros for the 2024 budget.

>> Read here: The federal government is preparing an austerity package – an internal paper mentions a gap in coverage

In the meantime, the traffic light coalition is also discussing possible savings, including above all the cancellation of environmentally harmful subsidies. However, such an austerity package is expected to bring only a single-digit billion sum.

Ultimately, the ministries will therefore have to forego spending requests. Because the debt brake should be adhered to in any case, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) also made clear.
The budget dispute will probably not be resolved in the coalition committee. It is unclear when and in what form an agreement is to be reached.

Fateful amalgamation: tenancy law and data retention

The SPD and FDP hold each other responsible for the fact that neither the reform of tenancy law nor the new regulation of data retention are making any headway. The bizarre thing is that the two projects have absolutely nothing in common. Yet they seem fatally intertwined.

Anyone who asks in the SPD will hear that Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) has been refusing to move forward in tenancy law for months, such as extending the rental price brake until 2029. Only one number would have to be exchanged.

The proposed law serves the minister as a means of exerting pressure to enforce his “Quick Freeze” version of event-related data retention. So tenant protection only if you waive any data storage without cause. Civil rights are upheld, and tenants are the ones who suffer as rents continue to rise sharply.

>> Read here: Tenants’ Association warns “Households with low reserves are threatened”

Anyone who asks around the Liberals will learn that the coalition agreement on data retention as a measure to combat crime is clear. If Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD) wanted to save Internet addresses at all times, things would just not progress.

No fixed date has been agreed for tenancy law, but Buschmann is of course eagerly working on the reform. The whole thing should not be discussed in the coalition committee. The chancellor is still counting on the ministers to unravel their issues themselves.

Planning acceleration is slow

When it comes to the goal, the traffic light is unanimous: in the future, planning and approval procedures should only take half as long as they do today. But the Greens and FDP have been arguing about one question for months: Should this apply in general in Germany – and thus also for motorways – or only for green infrastructure projects?

Motorway, new ICE line at Stuttgart Airport

How fast can you build?

(Photo: imago images/Horst Rudel)

The Greens are particularly upset that Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) has so far done little to comply with the requirements of the Climate Protection Act. The Greens also refuse to fundamentally implement all road projects more quickly.

>> Read more: Countries are pushing for faster planning and approval processes

At the request of the Chancellery, Wissing introduced a compromise weeks ago. He envisaged renovating and expanding the 4,000 dilapidated bridges on the freeways more quickly and eliminating bottlenecks in the freeway network. There might have been one or the other “closure of the gap”, which the Greens define differently than the FDP.

The chancellor, who invokes a new “Germany pace”, is keen on reaching an agreement. In the traffic light, it cannot be ruled out that the planning acceleration will be one of the topics on which the SPD, Greens and FDP can announce a result after the coalition committee.

According to the coalition, an eternal delay, of all things, when it comes to speeding up planning can hardly be conveyed anymore.

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