Berlin After a good year of government by the traffic light coalition at federal level, the political climate in the federal system has changed. “As with citizen income, we will use the Federal Council to exert influence,” announced the Hessian Prime Minister, Boris Rhein. “It is with great concern” that he views federal government projects such as the planned Energy Efficiency Act. The plans endangered “massive data centers that play a major role in Hesse,” said the CDU politician to the Handelsblatt. “There is a considerable need for discussion.”
Under Angela Merkel, the heads of government of the federal states still cooperated closely with the federal government. Union and SPD prime ministers even helped to draft the coalition agreement and were thus part of a particularly large coalition. Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP, meanwhile, do not even want to swear the states to their line: The opposition parties CDU and CSU are involved in enough state governments to stop at least those government projects in the Bundesrat that the state chamber must agree.
No wonder the Union discovered the Bundesrat “to fight for its positions,” as Rhein puts it. The public dispute over citizen income, for example, clearly illustrated the conflicting interests of the government and the opposition. How much should the state demand and promote job seekers if they claim help? The Bundestag voted in favor of the law, the Bundesrat majority against. The Mediation Committee had to meet again after a long time. The federal and state governments can call him to find a compromise after all.
In the previous two electoral terms, the committee met only ten times. Chancellor Merkel had used the informal body of the Prime Ministers’ Conference (MPK) to avoid an exchange of blows via the Bundesrat. During the corona crisis, for example, the heads of government struggled to deal with the pandemic as quickly as possible.
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This year, however, the informal group of chancellors and prime ministers fought for months over the energy crisis. Even friends of Chancellor Scholz’s party, such as Saarland Prime Minister Anke Rehlinger (SPD), publicly complained about a “structural deficiency”. In plain language: The federal states felt badly informed, whether with the plans for a gas and electricity price brake or the cheaper local transport ticket. The chancellor’s office treats the states condescendingly, while at the same time doing “incredibly bad” political work, according to the states. But the countries should take on half of the billions in costs with new debt.
The mediation committee is gaining in importance
No wonder that the Bundesrat has long since gained new weight for Stephan Weil, the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony and current MPK Chairman: “The distribution of roles between the mediation committee and the MPK is very clear: the mediation committee can be called upon at the end of a specific legislative process. The MPK is used for coordination between the federal states and for continuous discussion with the Federal Chancellor. Both formats are necessary.” Weil linked the clarification with a nod to his party colleague Scholz: “Especially under the current conditions, the federal and state governments have to work closely together,” he told the Handelsblatt.
Instead of involving the federal states at an early stage, the new government has applied for around 20 urgent procedures in legislative processes this year alone. The federal and state governments had agreed not to govern in a hurry like in Corona times. Thoroughness before speed should apply in the future.
The government tried a gas levy or forgot to relieve pensioners. She had to correct these mistakes. Under the impression of these experiences, the State Chancellery of NRW Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst (CDU), until recently MPK Chairman, said: “The mediation committee is not a blocking instrument, but a design instrument. It helps improve federal legislation.”
Wüst’s party friend Rhein also says: “I don’t think the mediation committee is a threatening instrument, nor do you have to shy away from it like the devil shuns holy water.” that it is an economic stimulus package for the political fringes left and right”. Federalism promotes the processes and does not slow them down.
Shortly before Christmas, it became clear that the Bundesrat does not only serve party tactics: Bavaria, which is governed by the CSU, did not find a majority to stop the annual tax law and to negotiate higher tax exemptions for inheriting real estate in a mediation process. For the other CDU-governed countries, the legislative package with many tax reliefs was too important to wait until the new year to discuss it.
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